Earlier this year, Google quietly added the ability for users to export and download their search histories. By default, and as one would expect, the search giant tracks all of the searches logged-in users make. Previously, it had given users the ability to view their search histories, but now users have access to the raw data.
Exports can be generated through the Google Account History page. A gear button in the upper right-hand corner of the page produces a drop-down menu with a download link that, when clicked, displays a pop-up with a warning about privacy. Users who opt to proceed are sent an email when the export is ready. The export is delivered as a ZIP file through Google Drive.
The actual search history data is contained in a JSON file within the ZIP. Each JSON file corresponds to a date range and has a schema that describes the search events that occurred during that date range, including the time of the search, the query text and, where relevant, the type of query. This appears to be used to denote searches that were associated with other Google products, such as Google News.
As VentureBeat's Paul Sawers notes, this new functionality "is related to Google’s 'Takeout,' a service launched back in 2011 designed to let users move their data out of Google. Thus far, it has catered to Gmail, Google+, YouTube, Google Contacts, Google Calendar, Picasa, and a handful of other Google services. The main notable omission thus far, however, has been Google Search ..."
In addition to allowing users to access and take ownership of their data on principle alone, the ability to export search history opens up interesting new possibilities for individuals to use their search data. While much of the quantified self trend has been driven by fitness devices and applications, it's not hard to imagine tools that would help users better visualize how they use search. More practically, there may be an opportunity to develop tools that assist users in identifying past searches of importance. Just about everyone has had the experience of forgetting a website found through search, then not being able to remember the search that led to the website. With search history data, it will be possible to build apps that make past searches searchable.
Of course, the big question is whether there will be enough user interest to make any of these possibilities a reality. Google users can disable search history, and searches that occur when users are not logged in to Google are obviously not included in these exports. So the number of users with interest and who have a meaningful amount of data may ultimately be relatively small.