Secrets we keep from our friends but share with Google

Privacy news
4 mins
Embarrassed emoji in a search bar.

In the digital age, we can find out just about anything with a quick search. What is the next flight from London to New York? What is 25% of 13,494? How tall is Chris Hemsworth?

And then there are those other queries we type into a search engine. Whatever happened to my high school boyfriend? Should I worry about this rash? “Sociopath signs.”

Sure, part of the reason we search online is because it’s where the answers are. (Chris Hemsworth is 6’3”.) But another reason is we frankly don’t want to share our questions or problems with people we know. 

Which raises another question: Is it really a better idea to be sharing our queries and problems with Google?

We conducted a survey to find out just what people are entering into search engines and whether they’d be afraid for people to know. Here is an infographic highlighting some of our findings (scroll past it for more stats):

Infographic on internet search habits and stats.Survey: What Brits search for and why

We conducted a survey with 2,000 adults in the UK to find out just how frequently people search for answers to everyday questions—ranging from mundane to embarrassing—and their motivations for doing so. 


An individual’s average number of searches per day

Nearly half (46%) of respondents said they probably couldn’t go a week without searching online for answers to their questions (35% said they could, while 19% were not sure). And indeed, 68% agree to some extent that they feel more comfortable using the internet to answer their questions than turning to family and friends. 

To what extent do you agree or disagree: “I feel more comfortable turning to the internet to answer tricky questions rather than family and friends”
Strongly agree31%
Somewhat agree36%
Neither agree nor disagree24%
Somewhat disagree5%
Strongly disagree3%

Much of this simply reflects the greater convenience and, in many cases, accuracy of using Google. Sure, asking the internet about the day’s weather or driving directions (the two most-searched topics) makes more sense than asking your family. The meaning of words or conversions between metric and imperial systems were the next most popular search topics.

But the impersonal nature of digital searches also plays a part. In the survey, 21% did say one of the reasons they turn to the internet include the subject being one they couldn’t or weren’t ready to talk about with people in their lives, with 18% saying the query might be embarrassing, such as relating to an ailment.

Do we trust Google with our secrets more than our friends?

It’s not a surprise that many of us search online for things we prefer to keep private. In our survey, 35% say they have searched on Google about things they would not tell anyone else, with 45% saying they have not (the rest were not sure). Half of all respondents said they would change their internet use if they knew their internet search history would be made public.


say they have searched on Google about things they would not tell anyone else


are worried about how much companies can know about them based off their search history
How worried are you about how much companies can know about you based off your internet search history?
Very worried19%
Somewhat worried43%
Not very worried28%
Not worried at all11%

Given that Google makes money off of user data—much of which is collected through searches—these concerns about giving away our most private thoughts to the Big Tech company are valid.

There are measures one could take to lessen the amount of information we give away, but not everyone sees the need. In our survey, 18% said they never delete their search history out of laziness, but more alarmingly, 29% said they don’t do so because they feel they have nothing to hide.


say they don’t delete their search history because they feel they have nothing to hide

Read more: Nothing to hide? Speak for yourself

Increase your privacy when searching online

You can stay private while searching for answers to every question that pops into your head:

  • Use a search engine with strong privacy features, such as DuckDuckGo, which does not save your search history.
  • When searching with Google, don’t sign in to your Google account. This makes it harder for Google to connect your searches to you.
  • Use incognito (or private browsing) mode. While incognito mode doesn’t stop tracking, it does prevent cookies from identifying you. It also stops your family members from seeing what you searched for.
  • Delete your Google search history. We don’t mean just on your device, but actually with Google. You can also stop Google from saving your activity.
  • Use a VPN. While a VPN won’t hide your searches from the search engine, it does conceal the sites you’re visiting from your internet service provider (ISP). It also keeps your IP address and location from apps and websites you visit.

Read more: What does a VPN hide?

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