How Google Preferences Work

Many people breeze through Google umpteen times a day without bothering to set their preferences — or even being aware that there are preferences to set. A recent Internet study asked users whether they would rather set Google preferences or get bathed in chocolate syrup. Sentiment was overwhelmingly against setting Google preferences. But I’m here to tell you that the five settings on the Preferences page enhance the Google experience far more than the effort required to adjust them.

To adjust Google preferences, click the Preferences link on the Google homepage or go here.

If you set your preferences and later return to the Preferences page by manually entering the preceding URL, your browser displays an unadjusted Preferences page (without your settings). That’s because your Preferences page has a distinct URL with your preferences built in to it. For example, after selecting English as Google’s default language for your visits, the URL appears like this:

How Google remembers your preferences
When you set preferences in Google, the site is customized for you every time you visit it, as long as you’re using the same computer through which you set the preferences. To provide this convenience, Google must place a cookie (a small information file) in your computer. The site and the cookie high-five each other whenever you visit Google, and then the site appears according to your settings. For this system to work, the reception of cookies must be turned on in your browser.

Some people are militantly anti-cookie, claiming that the data files represent an invasion of computer privacy. Indeed, some sites plant cookies that track your Internet movements and identify you to advertisers.

The truth is, Google’s cookie is fairly aggressive. It gets planted when you first visit the site, whether or not you visit the Preferences page.
Once planted, the Google cookie records your clicks in Google and builds a database of visitor behavior in its search results pages. For example, Google knows how often users click the first search result and to what extent they explore results lower on the page. Google uses this information to evaluate the effectiveness of its service and to improve it.

As to privacy, Google does indeed share aggregate information with advertisers and various third parties and even publicizes knowledge about how the service is used by its millions of visitors. The key word is aggregate. Google’s privacy policy states that individual information is never divulged except by proper legal procedure, such as a warrant or a subpoena, or by individual consent. The privacy policy is published on this page.

I have no problem with the Google cookie or with cookies in general. The convenience is helpful, and I don’t mind adding to the aggregate information. It’s rather comforting being a data droplet in Google’s information tsunami.

Your best bet for reaching the Preferences page after first setting your preferences (when you want to readjust them, for example) is to use the Preferences link on the home page.
A single basic process changes one preference or several. Just follow these steps:
1. Go to the Preferences page. As mentioned, just click the Preferences link on the home page or go directly to
2. Use the pull-down menus, check boxes, and radio buttons to make your adjustments.
3. Click the Save Preferences button.
4. In the confirmation window (which merely says “Your preferences have been saved” and is unnecessary), click the OK button.