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I had just been looking, in a plain text file, using a VI-ish editor, at my notes about garlic. I did not use the clipboard. The file is on my HD; nothing is 'in the cloud'. In the editor, I had searched for both 'garlic' and 'fertil'. After which, I went to Google and typed "fert", which they auto-completed as "fertilize garlic"! (Which is what I was going to search for.)

How? I don't think I've googled anything about garlic in years. Really. If they'd finished with "... blueberries", it would make more sense, since I have been googling that recently. But not garlic.

I do not have chrome installed. (I use Firefox.) Task Manager (Win 7) doesn't show any process I recognize as google-related.

So, can they be tracking my keystrokes? Or what?

EDIT: I don't imagine this changes anything, but my browser history (back to December) shows no 'garlic', other than the one in question. It does show three google 'fertilize blueberries'.

EDIT 2: It could be g-mail? Not a no-brainer - there are only a few more 'garlic' than 'blueberr...', and the 'blueberries' are winning recently. But, 'garlic' is there at least, and who can know the mind of God?

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    if you google up the same word on another computer that you haven't used before, you might get a peace of mind. – elsadek Apr 20 '17 at 5:25
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    You might just be typical. It could be that many people in your area were googling "fertilize garlic" and google decided you fit in with that group. Google has you geolocated and catagorized "gardener" (gardening.stackexchange.com/users/11429/george) – this.josh Apr 20 '17 at 5:30
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    The power of Big Data at work! They can't read your mind, but they can read your footprints, which you have left littered all over the Internet. Out of multiple thousands of data pieces on you, compared with multiple thousands of data pieces on multiple thousands of users, Big Data can draw parallels that could "know" more about you than you know about yourself. (Now they know I'm paranoid. :/ ) As you collected the information to make your notes, they collected your footprints, and then they read the "map" and showed you the way to get there. Quite helpful of them, isn't it? – Gypsy Spellweaver Apr 21 '17 at 6:49
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    BTW. Do you happen to have any of the Google-based DNS servers in your network setup? Might your ISP use Google DNS in their chain somewhere? Just more "footprints" for Google to analyze. – Gypsy Spellweaver Apr 21 '17 at 6:53
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    Nah - they just know what you're doing, not what you're thinking. – SDsolar Apr 21 '17 at 18:07
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There are several possible ways that Google could have found this information.

Demographics

There is a chance that Google has records of all your searches and data, and uses this data to group you with a demographic of users. For example, if you look up things like "bikes" and "scooters" - Then when you type in "ska" - Google may predict that you're going to type in "Skateboards" because many people who type in "bikes" and "scooters" also look up "skateboards."

History

There is a chance that Google has record of you searching about Garlic from years before, and something about the parameters was unique enough to allow Google to make the appropriate guess.

Keystrokes

Theoretically, this is possible but unlikely. Google is installed on your computer though, and with the appropriate permissions, it could read your data.

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    "Google is installed on your computer though" — It is? The whole Google? – jwodder Apr 20 '17 at 3:23
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    When I accepted a GMail account ages ago, it was explicitly disclosed that their algorithms would analyze my e-mails to associate me with "my interests." When trying to predict or understand what Google will do, it may help to think of them as NSA's biggest competitor. (Facebook may be second) – WGroleau Apr 20 '17 at 3:45
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    Installing keylogging software without permission would be detected, someone would spot the keyboard filter driver and it would be a huge disaster. – J.A.K. Apr 20 '17 at 7:19
  • @jwodder well why not, Windows comes shipped with the whole Internet pre-installed. Google could be installed as well. – niilzon Apr 20 '17 at 10:59
  • (sorry I could not resist .. ) – niilzon Apr 20 '17 at 11:00
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It's possible for Google to assemble data from a wide range of sources to create a profile of you which can inform search suggestions, in addition to their database of what people search when they start with a specific string.

If you're interested in knowing what google knows about you, you can use google Takeout to download a copy of a lot of that data. From there you could review to see if any information that might tie you to Garlic is present.

From a test with my profile, once I had searched for "garlic" as a single word, subsequently entering the string "fert" into the search box made "fertilizing garlic" pop up as top suggestion, which it hadn't previously, so if you have any garlic related search history it may well be using that to inform the suggestions.

Google's autocomplete database is pretty powerful as well, to the point that people have created games about it where contestants try to guess what autocomplete will have suggested for a given initial query.

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