Friday, February 23, 2007

Google redirects (privacy?)

I was just running a Google search after using Firefox's LiveHTTPHeaders (see my Firefox Extensions posting) for some other web development, and found something interesting. It appears that Google started tracking the search results I click on.

For example, after running a search for "Java", the first result listed is for "Java Technology" at Doing a mouse-over on the link shows the same site in the status bar. However, right-clicking on the link and choosing "Copy Link Location" results in something different:… (They are probably using some JavaScript, though I haven't dug into the matter in any detail.)

I know that practically all the search engines analyze, aggregate, or otherwise are interested in the search terms entered. However, I think the click-throughs are a much greater privacy concern, and thought the practice was abandoned long ago. (Not true for advertising, which depends on these redirects for determining the number of click-throughs for billing, etc. This I understand and somewhat respect...)

I quickly found that this behavior only exists when I'm logged-in to Google, which I use for my Gmail and other Google services. I'm suspecting this is related to their search history feature, though I currently keep all my search histories as 'paused', so I don't see the need to run all my clicks through their redirector. Additionally, besides the privacy concern, this results in an extra HTTP request/response for any link I click on...

I searched around, and couldn't find any information on why these redirects exist and what they are used for, but couldn't find anything. (If you know, please share!) So I asked Google for some details using the "contact us" link on their Search History Privacy Notice page. I got an automated response back the next day:


For assistance, please visit the Google Help Center at, where you'll find extensive, up-to-date information and solutions.

If you don't find the answer to your question in the Google Web Search Help Center and would like additional assistance, you can search the Google Web Search Help group at or post your question for other members of the group.

Finally, if you require assistance with Google Web Search that can't be found in the online help resources listed above, you can submit your question to the appropriate support team by clicking on one of the "Contact us" links in the Google Web Search Help Center.

The Google Team

Well, I had already tried the "Google (Web Search) Help Center". And for the life of me, I can't find any "Contact us" links there, either.

Without seeing any better options, I replied again to the email, and it hasn't bounced back yet. I'll give it a few more days, and might consider sending something to the listed mailing address on their site ("snail mail") if I still don't hear anything back.

I'll post any updates here as I learn more...

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