Google Knows I Have Cancer

John Bordeaux
2 min readMay 2, 2019
Bladder Cancer Ribbon

Well, certainly. The first panicked days I was all over the Google machine, trying to learn as much as I could. I highly recommend this, as I learned enough to know my first lab coat experience was inept. For the searches, I used “incognito” mode on my Mac and Firefox Focus on the iPad. Both promise ‘private browsing,’ but I forgot one key principle: Everyone knows your IP.

I first learned this when my wife started getting ads for sleep apnea treatment on her Facebook page. She doesn’t have sleep apnea, though. I do. And I don’t use Facebook. But we share an IP, and my health information, gleaned from my searches, was sold to target advertisements to applications with that IP address.

I suppose it’s almost automatic to connect my IP with my home address, name, and other Googleable information about my household. My interactions with the web and the hidden marketing algorithms now carry a cancer ‘tag.’

Hey, let’s keep those pre-existing conditions for health insurance, please. Always a good idea, now just a bit more personal.

What I wasn’t ready for, but should have been: Google knows what type of cancer I have. Do you ever run silly searches? Hearkening back to idle curiousity that began with such questions as: “Mom, why don’t fish blink?” For the past few months, I’ve been mildly obsessive about being outside — working, thinking, reading. On the back deck as often as possible. I ran a silly search, wondering if this was a common urge among those starting to ponder life with cancer.

I used the Firefox Focus “private” browser, you’ll notice. Read the results closely.

I didn’t ask anything about bladder cancer. Or prostate cancer, for that matter, but kudos to the amazing algorithm that assumed my next fear. I didn’t have to. So long as I am searching from my home, Google knows this home cares about bladder cancer. But I’m guessing they’ve already connected this to more than my home’s IP address.

Somehow, I don’t think moving will reset this. Where are we headed, I wonder?

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