Search History

Surf over to this thought provoking article by Tim Challies in Christianity Today (H/T The Fish Tank). In his article--Show All History: God promises to forget our sins. Google, not so much.--Challies discusses the relationships between sin, life, forgiveness and our Google, AOL or Yahoo search histories.

In 2006 AOL, as a part of a research project, released the search histories of 650,000 uses over a three month period. The research team had stripped all identifying information but the search histories were so specific and idiosyncratic people looking through the histories were able to link those histories with real people. Suddenly, there for all the world to see, a life was exposed in the search history.

AOL quickly realized its error and pulled the data. But the damage was done and these search histories continue to circulate the Internet.

Challies makes some observations about some of these search histories:

Some searches were dark and disturbing, others unremarkable in every way, and still others strangely amusing. Often you could reconstruct a person's life, at least in part, from what they searched for over a period of time.
Challies goes on to offer one such reconstruction:
body fat calliper 2006-03-01 18:54:10
curb morning sickness 2006-03-05 08:53:23
get fit while pregnant 2006-03-09 18:49:37
he doesn't want the baby 2006-03-11 03:52:01
uou're pregnant he doesn't want the baby 2006-03-11 03:52:49
online degrees theology 2006-03-11 04:05:24
online christian colleges 2006-03-11 04:13:33
foods to eat when pregnant 2006-03-12 09:38:02
baby names 2006-03-14 19:11:10
baby names and meanings 2006-03-14 20:01:27
physician search 2006-03-23 10:20:04
best spa vacation deals 2006-03-27 20:04:09
maternity clothes 2006-03-28 09:28:25
pregnancy workout videos 2006-03-29 10:01:39
buns of steel video 2006-03-29 10:12:38
what is yoga 2006-03-29 12:17:31
what is theism 2006-03-29 12:18:30
hindu religion 2006-03-29 12:18:56
yoga and hindu 2006-03-29 12:32:05
is yoga alligned with christianity 2006-03-29 12:33:18
yoga and christianity 2006-03-29 12:33:42
abortion clinics charlotte nc 2006-04-17 11:00:02
greater carolinas womens center 2006-04-17 11:40:22
can christians be forgiven for abortion 2006-04-17 21:14:19
can christians be forgiven for abortion 2006-04-17 21:14:19
roe vs. wade 2006-04-17 22:22:07
effects of abortion on fibroids 2006-04-18 06:50:34
abortion clinic charlotte 2006-04-18 15:14:03
symptoms of miscarriage 2006-04-18 16:14:07
water aerobics charlotte nc 2006-04-18 19:41:27
abortion clinic chsrlotte nc 2006-04-18 21:45:39
total woman vitamins 2006-04-20 16:38:16
engagement gifts 2006-04-20 16:57:04
engagement rings 2006-04-20 16:58:37
mom's turning 50 2006-04-20 17:51:13
high risk abortions 2006-04-20 17:53:49
abortion fibroid 2006-04-20 17:55:18
benefits of water aerobics 2006-04-20 23:25:50
wedding gown styles 2006-04-26 19:37:34
recover after miscarriage 2006-05-22 18:17:53
marry your live-in 2006-05-27 07:25:45
Challies summarizes the storyline:
This woman goes from searching about pregnancy, to realizing that the father does not want to keep the baby, to researching abortion clinics, to researching whether she can, according to her faith, choose abortion, to dealing with a miscarriage. And at the end of it all, life goes on and she seems ready to be married.
Psychologically speaking, was was most interesting for me in Challies' article was how search histories reveal how strangely divided we are within our own souls. We are a mix of good and bad, perversity and saintliness. The search histories show just how quickly we go back and forth. It is the duplex self of Romans 7 captured by Google. As Challies observes:
What is so amazing about these searches is the way people transition seamlessly from the normal and mundane to the outrageous and perverse. They are, thus, an apt reflection of real life. The user who is in one moment searching for information about a computer game may in the next be looking for the most violent pornography he can imagine. Back and forth it goes, from information about becoming a foster parent to the search for incestual pornography. One user went from searching for preteen pornography to searching for games appropriate for a youth group. Others, spurned lovers, sought out ways of exacting revenge while still others grappled with the moral implications of cheating on their spouses. These searches are a glimpse into the hearts of the people who made them.

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4 thoughts on “Search History”

  1. Man, I really, really hope Google doesn't save search records. Things I've searched for while drunk, I dunno.

    I get the idea we're scaring the daylights out of the people running the show. Imagine one of those poor NSA shmucks who has to troll through your search records. I think that it's being slowly disclosed that every human being is, in some way - insane, perverted, and bears an active disrespect for some law or another.

    This makes me really wonder about "Heaven" as the Christians tell us. It seems totally impossible to reconcile with human nature and the kinds of choices people make. Mark Twain mocked this in his "Letters from Earth," pointing out that men of his time imagined that Heaven was full of singing and music but not one man in a hundred cultivated an active interest in learning how!

    God is either going to have to change us by irresistible divine power, or take us as we are...

  2. Dammerung, I believe the answer to your question is that God changes us by divine power AND takes us as we are. It's the most incredible paradox in imagination.


  3. The unfortunate thing about even these "facts" that are recovered, is that they do not necessarily tell the whole story.

    Perhaps, the search was only a schzoid or paranoid perception of "fact". One recovering this information from the AOL engines would not understand or interpret the real situation, just know that the search was made and assume it these "fact" as Truth...all the while, only be an imagination in originator's mind!

  4. Thanks for the link. This article is very informative for front-line ministry.

    As I read about the girl who went from realizing the father of her child did not want the baby to contemplating abortion to inquiring of other religions, I wondered how this girls search might be different if she had a Christian community that would treat her with grace and encouragement rather than the perceived judgment she would incur...what if she was received the way Jesus received the woman at Simon's house in Luke 7?

    Grace and peace,


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