I am feeling Yucky :-( – Searching for symptoms on Google will not cure you

A new blogpost from the official Google blog with the title “I’m Feeling Yucky 🙁 Searching for symptoms on Google” explains how Google wants to cure you when you search for symptoms with a new self-diagnosing feature.


Now picture this: You wake up one day with a pain in you arse, it has been getting worse over the last few days and you are a bit worried about it. You decide to search on Google for the symptoms. After 5 minutes you have found so much information about “I have a pain in the arse” and maybe decide what treatment you’ll like, but you also find it hard to know if it is the right cure for you.


And you are not alone says Google – millions are trying to find answers for symptoms. This gives Google an enormous amount of knowledge about symptoms related to diseases based on what people find and click as treatment for their symptoms. In addition, Google now adds some sources with high-quality medical data for their symptoms search.


Google are now capable to give you information about the most likely self-treatment options for your symptoms* – and they might – who knows, you only ask Google about those slightly embarrassing symptoms, right?


So next time you have a pain in the arse or some other symptoms you’re too embarrassed to run by your friends – a Google search will be a helpful place to start….


While you keep it a secret for you friends Google will not hesitate to tell all the advertisers in the Google ad-network that you have a pain in the arse and are trying to find a cure.


Does your search history result in discriminatory ads?

In 2015 a study on Discrimination and Opacity in Online Behavioral Advertising called: Automated Experiments on Ad Privacy Settings: A Tale of Opacity, Choice, and Discrimination was done by Amit Datta, Michael Carl Tschantz, Anupam Datta. – [paper]


In the study you can read about “Discrimination and Opacity in Online Behavioral Advertising” – this study was the first to demonstrate discrimination in online behavioral advertising by showing statistical significance.


The study finds “…that the Ad Settings was opaque about some features of a user’s profile, that it does provide some choice on ads, and that these choices can lead to seemingly discriminatory ads. In particular, we found that visiting webpages associated with substance abuse changed the ads shown but not the settings page. We also found that setting the gender to female resulted in getting fewer instances of an ad related to high paying jobs than setting it to male.”


Share your story

If you are feeling discriminated by behavourial ads, you can share it with other people in Privacore’s community

What happens when you search for symptoms on Google?


To illustrate what happens on Google I did a small walk through…

  1. I opened Chrome, and searched for “pain in the arse” on Google
  2. I Visited a site with from the list of results
  3. I went back to Google and searched for information about Hemorrhoids
  4. I found some lotion in my local shop, and considered to buy the lotion.
    On to something completely different – I thought
  5. I went to a news website to read about the latest news from Google – Self-treatment
    – and was bombarded with ads for… yep, you are right the haemorrhoid lotion.


So we decide to check who Google told it to.. – Watch the video

This it what happens when you tell Google about your symptoms

My search is saved by Google, they will keep the info about my sore arse, and be able to correlate it when I afterwards search for haemorrhoid lotion , They obviously knows that I visited an online pharmacy to by the stuff, and when I visit my online news site the exact product I looked at is shown in both advertisements and inline content.


Are you ready to tell Google about your symptoms?

Will it help if I use incognito browsing for sensitive searches?


Well after all it is a bit embarrassing, and I don’t want to tell everybody about my sore arse – so I could choose to use incognito browsing – but even when using incognito browsing Google tells the advertisers. It’s better to not log in to my Google account in incognito mode, then Google will not save my search history.


Next time you are feeling yucky – and have some symptoms or other private matters you want to find an answer for – you have to decide if Google is the best place to start.

How can I search in private?


Obviously you can go to the doctor and consult with them about your symptoms, that might be the preferred option if you want a little privacy around your symptoms and health.


If you like to find answers online, another option will be to use findx – a search engine that does not tell advertisers about your symptoms, and don’t keep a history of you searches.


*) The Google symptoms feature is initially rolled out with results showing in English for users in the US. Over time Google hopes to roll out the feature to more countries and languages, as well as introducing new symptoms to its catalog.