When you use the Google Search Engine to locate a French Bakery, it locates what you are searching for. There are some great products that Google offers: Google Docs, Google Chrome, Google Wave, Google Earth, Blogger, YouTube, Google Analytics, Gmail and more. You need an account to use each of these tools. This account requires that you include your location and other details about yourself. The next time you search, it may 'remember' information about you to customize your search based on your IP address. For example, rather than searching for every French Bakery, it may show you the French Bakeries that are in close proximity to your location, even without GPS indicators.
Now when you visit your favorite blog, the ads that show up may be customized to you, not unlike Facebook ads. If searches are so smart, is it possible they could alter our perspective of the world? While we all get annoyed when a search engine query returns a lot of irrelevant information, is it healthy to limit that information to only what the search algorithms deem are relevant to us?
Fortunately, Google is always adjusting their search algorithms to improve the search experience, and in their own words, they take the responsibility of your privacy seriously by letting "you know what information [they] collect when you use [their] products and services, why [they] collect it and how [they] use it to improve your experience." After all, nobody is making you use any of their products.
What does all of this mean for me? Will I stop using Google products because I know what they are up to? Absolutely not. I love using Google Chrome, Google Translate, Google Earth, and many of their other offerings. Still, it is helpful to understand your options, including the opt-out option, detailed in the Google Privacy Center.
Also, as much as I love the Google search engine, it isn't a bad idea to take a look at other options now and again, remembering that each search engine will return different information because the search algorithms are all designed to locate information in different ways. View a comprehensive list of search engines. While the possibilities of Google shrinking our world to meet our individual needs is unlikely, I am always grateful when I can stumble onto something that my normal Internet meanderings may not include.