Google recently unveiled the ability to download – as in save to your device – your entire search history. Now, in addition to being able to pause or purge it completely, you can have a physical copy of everything you’ve searched for over the years.

Of course, there are a couple of catches. First, it’s not an instant download. You have to request an archive, after which Google sends you an email to alert you when it is ready. You can then view the archive on Google Drive or download the zipped file to your computer or device.

Further, the archive you get is broken down into multiple files, which are saved in an unfamiliar format (JSON). Fortunately, JSON files will open with any text editor though it won’t be easily readable.

This article will explain how to not only download your search history, but also read it, purge it, and turn it off (pause).

Downloading Your Search History

The first thing you want to do is make sure you’re logged into your Google account.

Your account settings can be accessed by going to myaccount.google.com or you can click on your picture in the upper-right corner and then click “Account.”

On the “Account settings” page, scroll down to the “Account tools” section and then click on “Account history,” which lets you “manage account history and related settings.”

There’s a lot of stuff here you should peruse at your leisure. It’s a good idea to always know what information Google is collecting on you and how to manage it.

Under “Your searches and browsing activity,” there’s a box that, if checked, will collect your activity from Chrome and and other apps. This means that Google will compile information from your web searches and apps connected to your account and use that information to provide more accurate, personalized search results.

Click “Manage History” to access your search activity history and further settings.

You may be asked to enter your password again.

Here then is how your search history might appear. Google displays your search activity by hours and days. Click on any given day from a month to view your search history for that day.

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Click the gear icon and “Download” to get started.

A stern warning will appear strongly urging you to read everything. It explains that your archived data will be available to download from Google Drive, that you shouldn’t download this data on public computers, etc.

Once you’re carefully read this information and you feel you’re ready, click “Create Archive.”

Like we said, the download isn’t instantaneous. You will have to wait until Google has your archive ready, after which they will send you an email. If your search history is longer and more extensive, it might take more time.

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Once finished, Google will send you a message that “Your Google search history archive is ready.”

At this point, you can either download the zipped archive to your computer or device, or view it in Google Drive.

The Google Drive method is convenient, though you still have to unzip the archive to view its contents. We found it easier to go ahead and download the archive to our computer and view the files from there.

Viewing Your Search History

When Google archives your search history, it divides it up into multiple JSON files, each about four months of activity, sorted by date.

If you double-click on any of the enclosed files, it should open up with your system’s text editor. From the following screenshot, you can see that searches are shown next to anything with the string “query_text”.

The “timestamp_usec” string is a bit harder to figure out. For this we used a simple website that converts time stamps into plain English. We first paste our timestamp into the box and click “Convert to Date.”

Note the first time we enter our timestamp, it converts the date incorrectly. This is because the timestamp from our search history is too long. The timestamp converter will automatically shorten it so all you need to do is click “Convert to Date” again and it should display the correct date and time.

So on March 27, 2013 at 11:37 PM CST, we performed a search for www.instagram.com, which we can verify by looking at our history from our Google account.

You should be able to view JSON files in any text editor such as Notepad, TextEdit, or Microsoft Word. We searched online for some kind of JSON viewer that makes it even more readable, but none of them seemed worth the effort. If you’re wanting to pore over your search history from the start to finish, then a text editor probably won’t meet your demands ideally, but for simple curiosity, it works well enough.

For everything else however, you can always view your search history from your Google account.

Purging Your Search History

That said, what if after you download your search archive, you want to purge it from Google’s servers? To do this, we first need to make sure we’re in our Google search history management page.

Again, click the gear icon but now instead of “Download”, choose “Remove Items.”

A dialog will appear offering to remove your search history from “the past hour” to “the beginning of time.”

When you’ve made your decision, click “Remove” and that duration of search history will be purged.

Pausing Your Search History

Finally, if you want to “pause” (disable, suspend) you searches and browsing activity, then you need to once again return to your “Account history” page.

Click the switch in the upper-right corner to pause your search history.

You be asked to confirm your action. Google warns that while your web and app activity is paused, it may still use searches made within your active browser session to “improve the quality of your search results.”

Click “Pause” when you’re ready.

Now your search and browsing activity is paused, as evidenced by the fact that the on/off switch is gray.

Obviously, if you ever want to reenable the history activity, you simply click the switch again, which will resume collecting your search history.

So, as you can see, there’s actually quite a bit more to downloading your search history than earlier news reports might have indicated. While it’s a relatively simple process overall, there are still a few details that might trip up folks.

We hope then that this article has been helpful, and if you have any comments or questions you’d like to share with us, we urge you to leave your feedback in our discussion forum.