Whitney Houston's volatile personal life and her tragic death in February topped the list of Google searches in 2012, both globally and in the United States, according to Google's Annual Zeitgeist most-popular searches list.
"As 2012 comes to a close, it's time for our 12th annual Year-End Zeitgeist—an in-depth look at the 'spirit of the times' as seen through the billions of searches on Google over the past year," Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow and senior vice president, wrote in a Dec. 12 post on the Google Official Blog.
"On our 2012 Zeitgeist Website, you can explore the most popular and hottest-trending search terms from around the world. This year's site is our most global to date, with a total of 838 lists from 55 countries."
Coming in at number two in the global searches list was the Gangnam Style dance popularized by YouTube sensation PSY, followed by Hurricane Sandy at number three, iPad3 at number four and video game Diablo 3 in the number-five spot.
Google has added several new features to the Zeitgeist list this time, including an interactive map that shows where and when some of the hottest terms spiked around the world, according to Singhal. A Google Zeitgeist Android app is also being released, with an iOS version coming soon.
Google also unveiled its annual Zeitgeist video, which portrays clips of the events and people that were the chart-toppers in search for 2012.
Rounding out the rest of the top 10 global searches for 2012 were Kate Middleton at number six; the Olympics 2012 at number seven; Amanda Todd, a Canadian teen who committed suicide in October after being the victim of vicious bullying, at number eight; actor Michael Clarke Duncan (the big actor from "The Green Mile") at number nine; and the television show "Big Brother Brazil 2012" (BBB12) in the 10th spot.
To create the lists, Google officials say they studied an aggregation of more than a trillion searches that people typed into Google Search over the year and then filtered out spam and repeat queries to come up with the top searches. All the information studied was collected anonymously and included no personally identifiable information, the company said.
The list also looks at "trending" Web searches this year, which are searches about hot topics that had the highest amount of traffic over a sustained period in 2012 as compared to 2011.
Among the top trending searches for 2012 were NBA player Jeremy Lin, who ranked first on the list, and Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, whose free-fall jump from outer Earth orbit ranked him sixth on the list.
"People researched a breadth of other topics, too," wrote Singhal. "Web users took a serious interest in threats to the open Internet, with proposals like SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act] and ACTA [Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement] both finding their way to the top of many countries' lists. The U.S. elections brought attention to the candidates and issues, not least the presidential campaigns' most notorious political gaffes. And while it might not be surprising to see that tragic natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy ranked highly (#3 on the global trending list), it is reassuring to find searches like [donate to Sandy] spiking as well."
The Google Zeitgeist list was quite different in 2011, when one-hit Web wonder Rebecca Black, who sang the song, "Friday," ranked first, followed by searches about Google's then-new Google+ service. Actor Ryan Dunn, the "Jackass" TV show star who was killed in an auto accident in June 2011, ranked third on that list, followed by Casey Anthony, who was found not guilty in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, in fourth. The top five last year was rounded out by the release of the first-person shooter video game, Battlefield 3.