January 24, 2007
Google Privacy is not a fancy new Google service. (Nice idea – personalized privacy management of your Google Account – I like it.) Nonetheless, doesn’t exist. The privacy of your information at Google is the subject of an investigation by the Norwegian Data inspectorate, along with privacy concerns at several other Norwegian search engines. This organization is attempting to answer a few specific questions, according to Pandia.com:
Well…maybe specific isn’t quite the right word, actually. The quote from the Pandia article, by Senior Engineer Atle Arnes of the Inspectorate, asks:
“Why do the search engine store the IP addresses [of searchers] for so long and are they using them for?”
This is actually a pretty wide-reaching query – I’d certainly be very curious to see the answer to the second part of the question. Somehow, however, I suspect that Google’s answers won’t be leaked very far out into the public unless they obfuscate any interesting part of the answer. Of course, it’s entirely possible that what Google does with the information they collect is nothing, but I think few people would believe that.
Privacy is a chronic concern in the Internet age. There’s no question that the information available to search engines can easily identify a person associated with their queries, even without any IP address or other uniquely identifying information. What the holder’s of this information will do with it is a curious question.
In theory, Google employees could know my calendar, my bank information, have access to my email, my search history, have indexed my hard drive, and know what websites I’m affiliated with and have webmaster privileges for. That’s a LOT of information.
What does Google know about you?
August 7, 2006
Although the idea of releasing an extensive quantity of unique search data for research purposes is admirable, the privacy issues raised by AOL’s unwary release are pretty disconcerting. As has become pretty widely known, AOL released search logs containing the searches of 658,000 users conducted over the course of three months. A fabulous resource for researchers investigating user habits and search marketing; but also an extremely invasive database of personally identifiable search paths and other personal data.
AOL has now removed the database and apologized for the error of judgement which allowed this information to become public, this does little to relieve the concerns for the privacy of those whose searches were released.
Although the usernames have been anonymized and replaced with numeric sequences, these sequences still provide a track for the searches of a single user – which can easily provide everything necessary to make a personal identification. Many people, for example, perform vanity searches – if you observe that somebody has made a large number of searches for a particular name, this may mean they are actually that person. It also may mean that they know this person; or that they are stalking this person. Either way, this is a serious privacy concern!
In fact, some bloggers (prior to AOL’s removal of the dataset) already identified some rather disconcerting query groups. Can any law enforcement body conceivably let this issue go without attempting to gain access to the information? The public availability of information this alarming may greatly weaken the court’s resistance to the Department of Justice’s requests for private data. Although the courts have generally been supportive of privacy, this information could very easily sway a judge.
There’s a lot more information on this issue covered around the web:
June 7, 2006
I’ve written several times before on Google’s situation in China, and have generally been supportive of their decision to move into China, despite the limitations posed on them by the Chinese government. I believe that censorship is a terrible thing; and I can’t support that particular activity – but it’s still unclear to me whether there was any reasonable business justification to ignoring the Chinese market.
Is it a greater censorship to withhold Google’s index entirely, or to provide a limited subset of their index? Maybe. However, when Google made the choice to accept China’s restrictions, they also made the choice to profit on those restrictions; and this is where the real difference lies.
The Associated Press reported yesterday on comments by Google co-founder Sergey Brin which indicated that he acknowledges that the company compromised their principles to enter the Chinese market:
We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference.
The sense of the article is that Google is now attempting to decide whether it is more sensible to continue with their censored project in China or to pull out of the marketplace – a possibly damning acknowledgement of their error. It’s hard to say what the public reaction may be to a withdrawal from China. On the one hand, many would be thrilled that Google had admitted their error and withdrawn. On the other, it would be a dangerous acknowledgement of a very expensive error of judgement.
The article also mentions that, apparently, most of Google’s Chinese customers are not actually using Google.cn.
Brin said Google is trying to improve its censored search service, Google.cn, before deciding whether to reverse course. He said virtually all the company’s customers in China use the non-censored service.
This, of course, makes things more complicated. If they withdraw from China not out of principle, but because their project was unsuccessful, the public perception of their withdrawal is even less likely to be positive – since the decision would perhaps be more clearly grounded in business than principle.
Perhaps, then, their goal is to make Google.cn more successful prior to withdrawing. The principled choice to abandon a thriving business venture has greater clout than the business decision to abandon a failed venture.
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