Chapell & Associates

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Reexamining online search privacy

The Daily Yomiuri Online - October 31, 2006 - You wouldn't tell your best friend. In some cases, you wouldn't even tell your spouse. But because of the seemingly anonymous nature of the Internet, most people don't think twice about the kind of personal information they reveal when performing an online search through services, such as Google and Yahoo. But is this information private? And are you really just an anonymous number or Internet address floating through cyberspace? The issue came to the fore this summer when AOL, the Internet Service Provider and subsidiary of Time Warner Inc. decided to voluntarily post three months of search queries on its Web site, representing the explorations of about 650,000 users. Even though AOL identified the search queries by number instead of names, it turned out to be surprisingly easy to piece together enough information to definitively identify at least some of the users.

The Chapell View
I like the concept of #Privacy, as it certain embraces the notice of consumer Choice when it comes to their privacy preferences. Two thoughts come to mind:

  • #privacy would require Users to append the string #privacy to their queries if they want to indicate that a search was private. I wonder how many users would bother to use that feature other than the die hard privacy evalgelists. Even if I wanted to use the feature, I'd probably forget to add the string to every search. Perhaps the search engines could insert a global on/off button so that User's wouldn't need to remember to add it each time they search.... My guess is that the major search engines would NOT, but perhaps a second or third tier search engine might.

  • #privacy would not facilitate privacy protection for illegal searches. Searching for term such as "Child Porn" is pretty easy to define as illegal. What about other items that might be legal in some jurisdictions, but not others? (Gambling comes to mind) When you get into specifics, what they are proposing might not be as simple as initially thought.

An interesting idea nonetheless - and another example of the continuing tension between search marketing and privacy...

posted by Alan on Wednesday, November 01, 2006

© 2005 by Alan Chapell & Associates LLC