Some of you are Googling things that make me think you don't know how Google works.
I usually don't give technology advice in these columns, but after reading story after story of the shocking idiocy of the criminal element, I have to speak up.
Here's how Google can get you into trouble if you're doing things you shouldn't.
Let's say you love peanut butter. I mean, really loooove peanut butter. Your spouse is morally opposed to peanut butter, and your employer has rules about looking at peanut butter at work.
No problem. You can just read about peanut butter on your phone or take your work computer home, and no one will ever know, right?
Because your web browser saves your search history and it's super easy to find. Try this: Go to your favorite browser and select the "Search History" command.
Did you see it? Did you see all your searches about peanut butter, peanut butter sandwiches, and peanut butter cookies? They're there for everyone to find.
Ev. Ry. One.
Not to mention that when you type the letter 'p' into your browser, it automatically fills in "peanutbutter.com" for you.
Why? Because Google wants to get you in trouble when your spouse is reading over your shoulder. That's because your browser knows, Google knows, and with one mouse click, your spouse or employer can know everything you ever searched for.
And if peanut butter ever becomes illegal, the government will definitely know.
I read recently about a Florida man who had been found guilty of murder. Can you guess one of the ways they proved he was a killer?
He had Googled "how to kill someone with a knife" on his work phone. And then killed someone with a knife.
The guy was upset that his ex-girlfriend was in a new relationship, so he tried to set fire to the new boyfriend's house before stabbing him over 100 times.
Prosecutors used his search history to help convict him.
In the UK, three 17-year-old boys went on a robbery spree without getting caught. Police tracked them down and arrested them after tracing searches like "How long does it take police to respond to an armed robbery?"
Not long, it turns out.
And in another case, thieves stole more than $10 million in watches, art, and a Porsche, but were caught because they Googled the value of one of the paintings. Their search was traced, and that was the end of their little criminal escapade.
My point is your Google search history is easy to find. That means your spouse or employer can see that you've been looking at peanut butter.
So can Google.
Whether it's on your phone, tablet, or laptop, Google knows what you've searched for. And, if the government asks them very nicely, Google will share everything. Even the stuff that you thought no one would ever find out.
Oh, and most especially that.
There's a joke among writers that the FBI and police often become alarmed when they see a bunch of searches about "undetectable poisons" or "ways to dispose of a body," only to realize the searcher is actually a writer.
In other words, if you ever want to disguise a murder, become a writer.
For anyone else Googling "body dismemberment" after weeks of searching for "marriage counseling" and "ruthless divorce attorneys," that's going to raise a few eyebrows at your trial.
Of course, as an upstanding citizen, I shouldn't be telling you any of this. Rather, I should encourage you to seek peaceful resolutions to your conflict and to use Google to find a job, not to learn how to commit crimes.
I shouldn't tell you that every web browser has a private or incognito mode that keeps websites from storing your personal data.
I also shouldn't say that if you use Chrome's incognito mode, Google still keeps your search data on its own servers, despite what the word "incognito" implies.
So I really shouldn't tell you that the DuckDuckGo browser never collects any data and blocks all websites from doing so.
And I would not be doing society a favor if I told you that for truly private browsing, you need a virtual private network (VPN) to completely hide everything.
A VPN is a sort of tunnel between your device and a server in another city, which prevents hackers and cybercriminals from accessing your information. It also masks your location, so when you visit another website, that site thinks you're accessing it from a different city.
That means if you lived in Indianapolis, but pointed your VPN at Chicago, the sites you visit will think you're in Chicago.
So I absolutely will not tell you any of that.
But if you're searching for something that's truly heinous and illegal — you know who you are — a VPN and incognito mode will not protect you from law enforcement.
If you're looking for something that is absolutely against the law, you will still be caught. And the VPN provider will be more than happy to share your search history with them.
Which means you may want to start Googling flights to non-extradition countries. Just make sure they allow peanut butter.
Photo credit: Stevepb (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)
My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available from 4 Horsemen Publications. You can get the ebook and print versions here.