For now, it seems, we can opt out of having Google track our search history by changing the “Web History Controls” on our google accounts. (Hayley Tsukayama of the Washington Post gives a short tutorial as to how, here. It’s purposely a bit fiddly, but doable.) But I don’t trust that opt-out to stay active forever, and in any case using it wouldn’t prevent google from mining information from our email, our music choices, etc.
Quixotic though it may be, I propose a different method: regular purgatives. I propose that those who don’t like the new policy make a habit of every so often typing into their search bars, one by one, a series of terms unrelated to one’s actual interests and to one another. The idea is not to avoid Google’s algorithm but to confuse it.
Doing this will take a couple of minutes, and nobody will do it unless it’s fun. I therefore humbly propose a new art form: the Babel Bomb. The idea is to post on the web a series of terms that are unrelated but have a vague conceptual or verbal continuity about them that’s esthetically pleasing–or else, in an alternative, deconstructivist mode, have a deliberately jarring or contradictory quality that’s funny or stimulating. If Babel Bombs catch on, people can look for them on the web and get some fun out of detonating them. I got the idea from google bombs, of course, but also from Spy magazine’s “Spy list” of people who had nothing in common except that they were somehow indicative of the Zeitgeist (or not), as well as from my time fact-checking the Harper’s Index.
Below is one example, in a mix of the modernist and deconstructivist modes (tending towards the former). I’m sure others can do better. Feel free, in comments, to try.
Schizophrenia, Ron Paul, Corinthians, Ricardo Montalban, islands, John Donne, Dun & Bradstreet, Jenna Jameson, “Irish whisky,” clover, crimson, vampires, platelets, dishes, weddings, divorces, Kardashian, Nagorno-Karabakh, puppies, Hello Kitty, sticker shock, Baumol, Dettol, Geritol, grandfather clause, Santa Claus, elves, shelves, brackets, crackers, donuts, Homer Simpson, Samson, baggage, strawberry, shortcake, clambakes, beaches, Sneetches.
Update: Apparently this doesn’t work (see the comment by Rachel) and other things work better, at least for search engine privacy (see the comment by Katja), though none of us has a solution for gmail I don’t think. File this under “malign intellectual mutation,” I guess. Still: doesn’t anyone actually like my list? 😉