Google: Protecting Your Privacy?

Google Bomb

What are you looking for?

The Department of Justice asked Google last summer for a list of every indexed website and every searched-for term over a month-long period. They say it’s about protecting kids from sketchy web-fare. It’s an unfathomably broad request (and it’s not about child porn, but we’ll explain that later), and Google refused. If they hadn’t, would we even have known about this new intrusion into our private lives?

So we know that if we give our credit card number out over the Internet, someone else might find it and make use of it. We know — perhaps — they can read our emails at will. Do we know, however, that everything we look for can be known and made public?

John Battelle calls search a “database of intentions,” a record of everything we want or want to know. But each of those searches you run — about a medical condition, about divorce law, about no-credit loans — sits in a database maintained by Google or Yahoo or Microsoft, each one attached to your unique computer address. In short, Google knows what you’re looking for. What if someone else wants to know?

How much do search engines know about us? Can we trust them to keep it to themselves? And if they’re not going to protect us, how can we protect ourselves?

Inspired in part by a comment from Scarequotes

Siva Vaidhyanathan

Assistant Professor of Culture and Communication, NYU


Vaidhyanathan pronounces his own name (MP3)

Mark Rotenberg

Executive Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center

Chris Sherman

Associate Editor, Search Engine Watch

Jason Schultz

Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation


Extra-Credit Reading

Om Malik, “Living a Cached Life”

John Battelle, “What’s the Big Deal?”

SearchEngineWatch, Administration Demands Search Data; Google Saya No; AOL, MSN & Yahoo Said Yes”

Danny Sullivan, SearchEngineWatch,“What People Search For – Most Popular Keywords”

Don Dodge on The Next Big Thing, “Living the observed life in the digital world”

Kirk McElhearn, “iTunes: Apple’s New Spyware and Adware Application?”

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