Reddit has officially freaked out over a site that automatically directs your browser to search terms pedophiles and would-be terrorists might use.
Unless you've specifically told it not to, Google remembers everything you've ever searched for—a fact that's been useful for artists, Google's bottom line, law enforcement investigations, among many other things. We've all searched for stuff we probably shouldn't have from time to time, but a web developer has decided to take the shared experience of regretting a specific search to its logical extreme.
"Ruin My Search History" promises to "ruin your Google search history with a single click," and that's exactly what it does. Click on the magnifying glass and it'll take over your browser and immediately cycles through a series of search terms ranging from the mildly embarrassing ("why doesn't my poo float," "smelly penis cure urgent") to the potentially relationship-ruining ("mail order paternity test," "attracted to mother why") to the type of thing that might get your name on a list somewhere ("isis application form," "cheap syria flights," "how to kill someone hypothetically").
Jon, the developer who made it, says more than 500,000 people have ruined their search histories in the last 24 hours. He says about a quarter of the people who visit the site aren't brave enough to click the button.
Originally, the site was going to be a tour of the internet's most horrible images and videos, such as Goatse and Two Girls One Cup, to "quickly get you up to speed on 15 years of horrible internet," Jon told me in an email.
"I thought better of that and went down the route of things you'd hate for people to see in your search history," he said. "I tried to make a semi-story out of the searches to add to the horror. And added in the person's location to the queries (though people don't seem to have noticed that)."
It's fun, mostly harmless, and if you squint hard enough, it might even be a bit subversive. I saw it as a bit of a comment on our lack of digital privacy, anyway.
"Really not sure how I came up with the idea originally," Jon wrote. "It was probably sparked by the never ending surveillance saga in the news: Snowden, NSA, phone taps, metadata, who searches for what." I asked Jon if he thought there's something to the idea that if we all search for words that are likely to be on a watchlist somewhere, we can confuse the NSA or make a comment about mass surveillance.
"I had the idea that the best way to make the government's search surveillance useless is for us all to be on 'the list,'" he said. "Maybe it does a bit, but if that's enough to throw their surveillance off course, it's probably not great surveillance."
After it was posted, the website quickly went to the top of Reddit's /r/internetisbeautiful, where people immediately began to freak the fuck out over the inclusion of ISIS-related search terms. The reaction has been so visceral, in fact, that one of the moderators has had to step in and defend leaving the link to the site—which now has warnings all over it—on the page: "We've taken adequate steps to warn redditors that this link might be something you shouldn't just blindly click," internetisbeautiful moderator K_Lobstah wrote in an incredibly long post. "I promise the NSA is not going to black bag you in your sleep (unless you are a terrorist). I promise the police are not calling a judge off his poker game tonight to obtain an emergency search warrant for your apartment."
Jon says it's gotten out of hand.
"The reaction on Reddit has been mental, some people seem to be legitimately freaking out," he said. "I guess that's just the sad times we live in. We assume the feds will turn up and that we're actually guilty because we typed some words into the internet."