I'm a big fan of Google's search engine, and use it regularly. I also use GMail, and Google Groups, and Google Maps, among other services. But recently I've been thinking about just how much information Google has about me based on my use of those services.
Most of us assume that when we do a search on Google that it's essentially anonymous. But in fact, most people have a small file sitting on their hard drive (a "cookie") that Google uses to uniquely identify them--not just when they're logged in to a Google services like GMail, but all the time. And personally, that creeps me out. The fact that every aspect of my information seeking behavior is being recorded, and that use of that data isn't really restricted by any laws or policies (other than the amorphous "do no evil" mantra) feels...well...icky.
So today I did some poking around, and found a very nice little bookmarklet (basically an "active" bookmark that takes an action rather than simply loading a page) called GoogleAnon that I've added to all of my browsers (with three computers that I use regularly, and at least two browsers running on each, that's a lot of browsers...). The web site explains it in detail, but in a nutshell what it does is replace the unique identifier in your Google cookie with a zeroed-out version. You can still use all the services you'd normally use, but it will no longer associate those with the identifier on your computer.
Installing the bookmarklet is quite simple--just follow the instructions on the GoogleAnon page.
Even if you don't install the bookmarklet, or clear out your Google cookie, it's worth reading through the whole site, and thinking about the issues of search and privacy. There's always a balance to be struck between the convenience and the risk of personalization, and I think we should all be making informed choices about that balance.