Improve Your Online Search Experience and Protect Your Privacy

Live show air date: September 10, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.

In this video episode we explore the “Why” behind the tech tools we use. Then we dig into the settings and preferences to create the online experience we want, and the level of security and privacy that we are comfortable with. Follow along here on the show notes page. Premium Members: exclusive show notes PDF download can be found in the Resources section below. 

Google, YouTube, Ancestry, and all the other tech tools are simply tools. They shouldn’t dictate what we do. Instead, we should decide how we want to use them to accomplish our goals.

There are two sides to every tech tool:

  1. what it can do for you and
  2. what it can do for the company that created it.

Sometimes those are two very different things. That’s why we need to freshen up our online mindset.

Don’t always follow the prompts (for example genealogy hints, suggested Google searches, etc.) provided by the website. You decide how you will use each tool.

Recommended Viewing:
Genealogy Gems Premium Video How to Take Control of Preserving Your Family Tree Information. This important video covers my specific strategies for how to set up and control your genealogical data.

While Google.com may look like a search engine, that may not be it’s core business. Google is the largest advertising company in the world. We have to remember that first – even over it being a search engine.

My Google Activity is a website that functions as your dashboard for controlling your experience with Google. Here you can turn off some of the tracking and delete history for a number of Google tools. It’s important to carefully read the details regarding what will and won’t be done when you change the settings.

The activity that Google tracks and stores helps to customize your experience and provide you with a breadcrumb trail. You can go back and visit your past activity to find things you’ve done in the past. It’s also valuable to them for advertising and other purposes. To a certain extent, you can decide how much of it is collected and retained.

At the top of the page you’ll find three areas where you can see and delete your activity:

  • Your Web and App Activity
  • Your YouTube Activity
  • Your Location Activity

Click each one to explore your options. Move the blue slider to off to “Pause” the feature. Click “Auto-delete” to set the length of time your activity is retained in history.

It’s a good idea to periodically (perhaps every six months) review your settings to ensure that everything is still set the way you want it.

There are many layers and locations where you can adjust the settings for the wide variety of Google products. These pages and settings can move over time. If in the future you don’t find things where we are showing them in this episode, simply google to find the current location. For example, google “my Google activity” or “YouTube privacy settings.”

One of the places you will find additional privacy and personalization settings for YouTube is on the YouTube website.

When you are logged into your free Google account on YouTube, click your account icon in the top right corner of the page and then click the Manage Your Google Account. Click Privacy and Personalization. Select the Privacy Checkup to be guided through your option. Here you will find YouTube settings where you can control what part of your activity is seen or not seen by other YouTube users.

We have been talking so far about websites and how they track your activity and information. Another way that Google tracks your activity is if you use the Chrome browser. For example, if you google for some information, you receive the search results on the Google website. If you click one of the results it will take you to a new website. At this point you have now left the Google website. However, if you are using the Chrome browser, Google can still track and record your activity history. Some people find that convenient and some do not want their history tracked. The important thing is just to know that it is happening and to make an informed decision. Most browsers do some level of tracking and saving of information. Review your browser settings and make adjustments to suit your needs.

Most of us at some point have put our name and even our town or state online. This isn’t necessarily a problem because we share that information in many ways offline as well. It can become a problem though when we combine that information with other personal information, like being away from home.

Many people use an autoresponder on your email service while they are on vacation or away from home. It’s a convenient way to let people who email you know that you won’t be answering right away. However, it’s very important to not state directly that you are “on vacation” or “out of town.” There’s no reason to tell anyone that, and it might leave you open to theft if you do. We often share our email with people we do not know (businesses, etc.) and your name and email are usually all that is needed to find more information about you and your home online. Instead, consider saying “please note that now through (date) I will not be regularly be checking this email box. I will reply to you as soon as possible.” This gets the message across without providing an unnecessary explanation as to why.

Currently, Google is still the top search engine, and that makes it often the best tool for our online genealogical searches. Since we have come to understand that Google is first and foremost and advertising company, that will help us better understand the results we are receiving. Here’s why…

Folks in the advertising business need to know as much about customers as possible in order to be effective. Google has created a wide variety of excellent free tools that are useful to researchers. These free tools also provide an excellent way for Google to collect data. Therefore, it is in the best interest of Google to provide search results in a way that keeps you interacting with their website for as long as possible. In fact, this applies to all websites. Genealogy websites are also interested in collecting data, because data has tremendous value in many different industries. So, it is not a surprise that businesses and other organization want as much user information and data as possible. But we, as the users, need to take this into account as we use their products.

Let’s analyze some of the ways that Google delivers results on their results page.

analyze the google search results page

Elements of the search results page.

We must consider the “Why” behind search results. Ask questions such as:

  • Why are the results being presented in this format?
  • Is the results page giving you the impression that this is the one definitive answer, and that there is no need to click through to the website?
  • Why are these related searches being suggested to me?
  • Could there be more websites and perspectives that are not obvious on this first page of results?
  • Do these related searches have the potential to get me off the track of my research plan?

Here’s another example of how results sometimes appear:

analyze google search results

Analyzing the Google Search Results Page

Notice in both examples, very few specific web page articles are offered.

We are more likely to see these types of results for straight-forward topics and questions. Many of our genealogical searches for records, specific people and other less direct information will likely provide the more traditional list of website results page.

No matter what type of results page you receive, it is imperative that you click through and verify the source of the information. Review several different sources to ensure accuracy. And finally, it’s imperative to cite the source for any information you ultimately use for genealogy.

I cover this important topic in much more depth in my book and videos.

Recommended Viewing and Reading to learn more:
Genealogy Gems Premium video: The Google Search Methodology for Genealogy (Premium membership required)

google search methodology for genealogy
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke available at the Genealogy Gems store.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available here.

In this episode we ran side by side comparisons of searches and found inconsistency in Google’s auto-filling feature. Here are the important takeaways:

  • Don’t assume that the auto-filled text represents the quantity or priority of potential results
  • Don’t assume that the auto-filled text represents what’s trending
  • Assume that there is subjective influence and do your own homework. Run your search, analyze the results, and click through to the sources for comparison and analysis. And of course, ALWAYS cite your sources for information you include in your genealogical research.

If there is subjective bias in politics searches, we would be wise to assume that there can be bias in ANY search result. This doesn’t mean we should stop using search. All records have the potential for bias. However, we do need to question and verify and we do throughout our research.

  • Review your My Google Activity settings
  • Review additional privacy & personalization settings
  • Take the privacy check up
  • Be careful with vacation auto-responders
  • Consider another browser such as Firefox, Opera
  • Understand and take into account the “why”
  • Carefully analyze search results
  • Always review and cite online sources

Premium Members: Download the show notes handout

The Show
Elisa:
Lisa, when you are able to be out in public traveling will we continue to be seeing you on Thursdays this is family time? This is my cup of tea time.
Lisa: Yes, as long as there’s interest I will continue producing Elevenses with Lisa. (Leave a Comment: I invite readers to leave a comment below and let me know if you want to keep seeing the show, what you enjoy about it, and what you would like hear about in future episodes.)

YouTube Restricted Mode
Valerie:
I had restricted mode set on my YouTube for my granddaughter and it would not lode Elevenses until I turned it off.
Lisa: YouTube has strict guidelines for identifying if a show is geared to children (and potentially promoting products to children). If it is, there are more requirements. Only shows identified as “for kids” can be viewed in restricted mode. Therefore, not being available through restricted mode does not imply that the show is inappropriate. Elevenses with Lisa is appropriate for general audiences. Grandkids welcome!

Ads
Vicki:
​Can you set your activity to get rid of the ads?
Lisa: Unfortunately, no. 

YouTube History
Gwynn:
If you “pause” history on You Tube and you save a video on You Tube will it still be in my library?
Lisa: Yes, it will be in your library but you will not find it in your “My Activity” history. 

Google App vs Desktop
K M:
How is the Google App on IOS different than Chrome?
Lisa: I’ve noticed that when a new feature is rolled out it likely shows up on one before the other. For instance, the tools menu appeared on desktop first. I’ve also noticed that some search operators don’t appear to work on mobile. Google doesn’t provide definitive information on this. I would guess that’s because both Google.com on desktop (in any browser) and the Google app are constantly evolving. If I’m using the app and not getting the desired results I will often run a comparison search on desktop.

Ads
Cynthia:
​If you don’t want to see ads, in your google do you turn that off or leave it on to control what you see or how many ads you get?
Lisa: You can’t prevent ads. Leaving it “on” in your settings provides ads more targeted to your specific interests. 

Search Frequency
Gwynn:
Is there another place we can look for search frequencies on key words in Google?
Lisa: Run a Google search for keyword research. There a variety of different tools available. 

Browser Cookies
Gayle:
​What are the benefits of internet cookies? Should I delete cookies?
Lisa: Cookies are used to do things like save your log in credentials and customize your web browsing experience. Generally speaking, this is convenient. If you’ve ever cleared your cookies you’ve probably found yourself having to re-enter your credentials into every website you use. I typically only delete mine when a website (perhaps trying to checkout of an online store) gets “hung up” and won’t process correctly. In those situations I’ll go ahead and delete cookies and clear my browser cache which often fixes the problem. 

Browser Cookies
Marilyn:
​So many web sites ask us to accept cookies. Should we do this? Is this how they follow us.
Lisa: See my answer to Gayle above. If I anticipate wanting to revisit a website, I will go ahead and “accept.” If it’s a one-time visit, I usually ignore it. 

Changing Your Search Experience
Kay: 
What if our search engines are refining our searches so much that we are missing new places we might want to go.  In other words they’re just directing us to “same old same old?” when we’re doing our genealogy searches.
Lisa: What you’re describing is an extension of we’re talking about in this episode. It is indeed possible to start to feel like your online experience becomes an echo chamber of information that websites think you want. Facebook is a prime example of this phenomenon. If you’re ever concerned and want a fresh experience, use Incognito mode in your web browser. In Chrome, click the three stacked dots in the upper right corner and select New Incognito Window

I hope you enjoy our weekly get-togethers as much as I do. Do you enjoy the show? You can support it by sharing it with your friends, library and genealogy society. We also appreciate if you when you shop for genealogy products you check out our Genealogy Bargains page and use our links. And finally, please keep the conversation going by leaving a comment or question below. Thanks for joining me!

(Excerpt) Read more Here | 2020-09-12 20:14:56
Image credit: source

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