What Google doesn’t know: Lessons from the Ashley Madison hack

I remember discovering, years ago, that Google’s default setting is to preserve one’s entire online search history. I immediately disabled the feature. I didn’t want to know. I preferred the search box in the corner of my web browser to function as a gateway to oblivion. Whether a query was a work-related bit of research, a telltale sign of procrastination, or evidence of embarrassing curiosity, I did not want to face the long and absurd list of things for which I had searched.

The existence of this search history gave me a glimpse of something I’ve since come to understand more deeply, as the years pass and I amass more log-ins and apps and “friends”: the Internet knows me very, very well.

And the Internet is astounding, isn’t it? You can FaceTime the grandparents. You can locate Bible verses, slow-cooker recipes, sports scores, and the symptoms of fibromyalgia, mitochondrial disease, and yeast infection. You can generate driving directions from Tallahassee, Florida, to Sioux City, Iowa. You can Google “mushrooms growing out of showerhead,” “is pokeweed poisonous,” “Taylor Swift Lisa Kudrow smelly cat.” You can find other people who are equally passionate about rat terriers, the Avett Brothers, typography. You can tweet #blacklivesmatter. You can watch pandas sneeze and episodes of Family Ties. You can get stuck on the 117th level of Candy Crush. You can uncover the digestive effects of eating escolar at the sushi bar without having to weather an extremely awkward conversation with another human being.