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Why Google, Not Facebook, Knows Your Darkest Secrets

13 November 2012 No Comment

The quiet terror of Dark Search.

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Google, bruised as it has been by the rise of social, still runs the most important utility on the internet. I use Google search for fewer things than I used to — I never rarely use it to find something to just read, for example — but it's still the best index we have of the world's vast and scattered public network.

I feed it some words, it guesses what I want. It's a little dumb, but in a way I can work with. While our relationship has evolved over the years, its core pillars have held.

Simple search is destined to become a secondary feature, if not for one of Google's competitors than for Google itself. More and more of what it does for users will be ceded to social networks: people searching, news searching. Social networks have effortlessly built a more relevant searchable index of the internet's most recent history, leaving Google frozen out and scrambling awkwardly to catch up. But there are some needs social networks can never serve.

Twitter knows what you tell it, and a tiny bit more. Facebook presents of mile-high view of your online social history which, while unsettling in sheer size and scope, is selective and containable. The kinds of secrets it knows are secrets you're sharing, even if with just one person. They seem worse because the site reads them back to you endlessly.

It's Google, the social also-ran, that knows your real secrets. It knows the things you wouldn't ask your friends. It knows things you can't ask your spouse. It knows the things you haven't asked your doctor yet. It knows things that you can't ask anyone else, and that might not have been asked at all before it existed. Google's servers are a repository of the developed world's darkest and most heartbreaking secrets, a vast closet lined with millions of digital skeletons that, should they escape, would spare nobody.

In 2006, Aol (then AOL) released a large database of search logs to researchers. The logs, which contained a month's worth of searches from about 650,000 users, were anonymized clumsily: each unique user was given a numeric tag that itself provided no information, but tied all a user's searches together. This made it easy to identify at least some of them — imagine a search for “hot free porn” followed days later by a self-search — a fact made far more horrifying by the actual contents of the logs.

AOL issued a warning with the data:

Pornography is prevalent on the Web and unfiltered search engine logs contain queries by users who are looking for pornographic material.

This was an understatement.

SomethingAwful users scoured the logs for the most shocking content back in 2006. The resulting posts are some of the most powerful documents on the internet. It's worth looking through all three, but here's the kind of stuff you'll find:

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Some were downright horrifying:

Source: i.somethingawful.com

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