Saturday, April 26, 2008

Yahoo Open Strategy (Y!OS) vs Privacy


I attended the O'Reilly Web 2.0 Expo Friday at Moscone West in San Francisco where I attended two sessions I'd like to address here. First was titled "Yahoo and Open Platforms - A Deeper Dive" by Yahoo Chief Architect of Platforms, Neal Sample. The second was a (Yahoo-owned) Flickr presentation on "Casual Privacy" by Kellan Elliot-McCrae. (This Flickr photo sharing tool is aptly titled and the technology consists only of a simplistic use of hard to guess complex URL's - once posted to a blog they become exposed to search engines and lose all privacy.)

I often come away from sessions like the first one mentioned above thinking "Wow! There are some scary smart people working on some really incredible things out there." But when looked at through the filter of personal privacy, the "Scary" part stands out for me.

Scary simply because the "Yahoo Open Strategy" takes personal data and distributes Yahoo user profiles across a multitude of Yahoo properties and makes it available to all Yahoo services once a user is logged in. Scary only because it means this database of personally identifiable information on anyone who opts-in becomes distributed widely across those Yahoo properties. I hope that user preferences for which services it is shared with come with their own privacy settings - necessarily complex settings to boot.

I had to miss two Web 2.0 sessions, one Wednesday and another on Thursday that I'd wanted to attend when a work project required immediate attention. Those included one with Joseph Smarr from Plaxo titled "Data Portability, Privacy and the Emergence of the Social Web" and I had heard Smarr speak at WebGuild event on OpenSocial launch in November, hosted on the Google campus.

The second session I had to miss was the Yahoo announcement of "Yahoo Open Strategy" by Ari Balogh, Chief Technology Officer at Yahoo! during his keynote on Thursday. This last announcement was major and has been characterized as a move against the Microsoft takeover bid. Personally, I think it's too big and sweeping to not have already been in progress before the bid became public. It involves reworking the entire system to incorporate the "Open Strategy" into most Yahoo properties, including Yahoo Mail, the home page, their Open Search platform, (announced at SMX West in Santa Clara in March). Bits a bytes of this have been leaking out here and there since then.

My reaction at the SMX show was "Wow, sounds cool!" and I'm still excited about how this might change the face of search and usability, and I'll address that elsewhere, but for now I'm pulling back a bit due to Privacy concerns related to this "Openness" because it makes me nervous that all of the aggregation of data (potentially in the hands of Microsoft) has me concerned about willingly providing all my data to one source.

I had my first privacy concerns when I noticed, on (Yahoo-owned) MyBlogLog, a request for extensive (and yes, publicly available) data from all my social sites. Having had a bit more time to digest this all - and now looking at it in the full light of the Yahoo Open Strategy announcement, It's losing its shininess due to privacy concerns.

The commenter on the previous post where I address this concern points to the MyBlogLog Blog discussing the new tools. But nothing is really addressed there except that this data will be offered to users from their own profile and made available to their own "Friends" if they opt-in. Swell, despite the fact that I want to define my "Friends" and what they see, differently based on they kind of friend they are, (marketing, business, true close friends, co-workers, management, family, etc.)

I'm going to leave that for now and look purely at this one fact: Despite the wonderfully friendly UI and utility of this "Openness" I'm not liking the need to gather all my own data and hand it to others to use as they see fit. In this case, Yahoo, in the future, Microhoo and who knows who else if they choose to "Share" it in aggregate or "Ooops" leak it out like AOL did in August of 2006.

New AOL Privacy Leak

I just don't know that I'll ever give Yahoo, or Microhoo - all of my public data to aggregate (and maybe leak) regardless of how convenient it is (and only on Yahoo-owned properties) or how easy it makes my online life. The aggregation and distribution of public social profiles is interesting, but once it starts getting distributed through API's to each social network or service - you've lost all control of who sees what and when.

This only truly matters if you DON'T want family seeing ALL of your Flickr photos or DON'T want your employer looking at resumes posted on job boards on social networks, or DON'T want your clients reviewing your connections with their competitors on business social networks - this list could go on endlessly and with thousands of DON'T wants - because we've already seen people fired from corporations due to private information or photos or personal associations being exposed on social networks.

Some people live their entire lives in full public view - others prefer a bit of control and security of that data. If everyone gave serious thought to how they want this information shared, it would surprise me. But for those who care, fine control of where the information flows should be an option. I doubt that level of control will ever be available, with the full ability to change or delete all data in all places it flows via API's and "Open Strategies."

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posted by RealitySEO at 12:11 PM 0 comments

Sunday, September 23, 2007

What Will Make Privacy Important to Public & Business?


For several years now I've blogged about privacy laws, data mining, data breaches, search privacy, cookies, phishing, spyware, data theft and big brother.

What never fails to amaze me is the fact that few people care about privacy until it touches them personally through identity theft, harmed reputation, excessive spamming, loss of work or public embarrassment.

I've searched for ways to spur public discussion of the need for effective privacy laws and protections. There is the ocassional flare-up in public interest when AOL leaks the private searches of their users to the world. There are dumb moves by our government when they over-reach their authority and exceed reason as when the Department of Justice demanded 30 days of search data from the top tier search engines.

There are silly stumbles of companies when they expose users to spam by including ALL their customer database of emails in stupid slip-ups. There are major cases of careless greed when data mining companies continuously sell consumer data to criminals because they won't bother to check their own customers need for (or even the right to) private financial data. There is the proposal by the Bush Administration that we have a (poorly designed) defacto National ID required of us to travel anywhere, which becomes an even greater risk to security and privacy.

I could go on for days with this. But to get to the point of this post, I've searched for ways to engage the public in discussion of important privacy issues of the day, so far without effect.

So when I see ways that may help expose the privacy issues discussion to more people, I leap on it with gusto in the hopes that it will bring more attention to privacy laws and protections. I've discovered a tool that may help bring privacy to more bloggers and those involved in building the technologies of the web.

It's called BlogRush and works on the principle of the old banner exchange model - but this one operates with an embeddable widget. The more times you display the widget, the more "credits" you get for your posts being displayed within the widgets of other members of the BlogRush Network. The concept is extended beyond simple one-to-one numbers as those who get their widgets from you, then expose your widget to their own audience and you gain more credits for display of your post headlines across the network on all bloggers using the widget. It seems like the model will overextend itself at some point unless growth is phenomenal and sustained over time.

Nevertheless, I'm happy to try it out and see if the model works for exposing privacy concerns to the world of influential bloggers. Take the BlogRush widget you see to the right on this blog and see how it works for you to increase the visibility of your most important topic. If your topic involves the need to research privacy at all - try out our Privacy Search Engine which draws ONLY from authoritative privacy sources via the Google Custom Search Engine.

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posted by RealitySEO at 7:01 PM 1 comments

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Google on International Internet Privacy Standards


Google Calls for International Standards on Internet Privacy and has taken some lumps from privacy advocates which may not be justifiable - YET. The linked Washington post article above quotes comments from Google's global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer where he makes a case for a standards body to set and enforce privacy rules internationally.

Not a bad idea, especially if European standards are incorporated into that mix. But the fact is that Google is very likely to be making this call for international privacy standards simply to deflect concerns about their DoubleClick acquisition when a decision is made by the FTC.

I recently ran across the video below at the VortexDNA Blog. It is a whiteboard discussion of Google Privacy Policy by senior search engineer Maile Ohye - which makes no direct mention of major public concerns - but somehow manages to calm fears - even if you are a bit sceptical of the safety or your private information under current Google privacy practices.

All I can say to this issue is that Google has proven themselves trustworthy so far and has suffered no major data losses or privacy gaffes. This call for international privacy standards from Google appears at a time when they are under scrutiny for the DoubleClick acquisition and after Ask announced the "Ask Eraser" product which will allow any user to completely wipe out their search history and delete all information already gathered and opt out of future data gathering by Ask. Google and all other search engines should consider adopting the Ask Eraser model. Although right now it is all talk and little action by Ask as it is simply a promised product and not a reality.

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posted by RealitySEO at 7:58 PM 0 comments

Friday, September 14, 2007

Search Privacy: You Are What You Search For - Er What You Eat


The following comes from AltSearchEngines and was used by permission

Search Engines & The Illusion of Privacy


For those who don’t recognize this image, this is the ubiquitous “Cone of Silence” from the TV series “Get Smart.” Whatever was said in the Cone stayed in the Cone! The privacy of your conversation was absolutely guaranteed.

Let’s see, I’ll be 60 years old…

The story from the Associated Press (AP) that greeted me this morning looked like it was just an update on one of the Homeland Security Department’s policies. It said, in part, that instead of keeping risk assessments on you and me for 40 years, they will only keep them for 15 years. What a break! Oh, and by-the-by, you’re not allowed to see your risk assessment, or even why they have one on you.

You are what you eat!

But what really got my attention was that they will try to deduce whether or not we are terrorists by the names of our traveling companions, the number of hotel beds requested, and -wait for it- airline meal choices! That made me wonder, does Homeland Security know what groceries I buy (with my credit card, to make it a little easier for them)? Do they know what cereal I had for breakfast? What do terrorists eat when they travel? I sure don’t want to order that…

Alternative Search Engines

What does any of this have to do with the alternative search engines? That’s what I was wondering. On Mondays at AltSearchEngines we usually feature a different Vertical search category. But after reading this news, search engines that I once thought of as helpful and innocuous, now seemed to be under a black cloud of suspicion.

People Search

Of course People search is often singled out as the bad guy. What do they know about me? Why is Facebook releasing my profile? If I misspell “kiddie horns” when I search for my nephew’s birthday party favors, am I going to be tagged as a pervert? Personal data and issues of privacy will always be at the top of everyone’s concern. The alternative People search engines and the social networking sites will always have that special burden of reassuring their users that it’s safe to use their site. (Or at the very least that the benefits outweigh the risks.)

Likewise the Job search engines. Before today I would have only wondered which one is most likely to find a good position. But in a parallel paranoid universe, what if “something” happened and my boss found that I have been searching for a new job while I was on the clock! After all, didn’t Monster.com have a theft of confidential information?

Health Search? Could a prospective employer surreptitiously buy a list that revealed that I have a preexisting condition and then find another reason not to hire me?

Travel search? Yep, he’s a terrorist. Probably off to training camp.

Search engines that track blogs, discussions, buzz, and other readily available Internet chatter; if I make a joke about renting out my basement to “that guy on the video,” will they “accidentally” fire bomb my house?

Video search? Buy Season Three of “24″ ? Not any more; no way.

Image search. More bad news. Another article, again, in this morning’s paper, said that if they catch a child pornography suspect with a picture of a child on a red blanket, they perform a search for all photos with red blankets. My beach towel is red! I could be looking at 10-15 years of hard time - and lose my beach towel.

Conclusion

We live in a world where every email, every outdoor camera, every Internet search on every search engine, every hotel we book or meal that we order might be captured by someone and used against us. The “Age of Innocence” has run head-on into the “Illusion of Privacy,” and the result is the “Plague of Paranoia” that is sweeping our world like an electronic epidemic.

Now, what would a terrorist order for lunch?

Here’s a bonus, check out this really creative UI for a local restaurant search!

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posted by RealitySEO at 8:57 PM 0 comments

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ask Eraser To Erase Search History


Ask.com To Launch Ask Eraser To Erase Search History & New Data Retention Policy. This is an excellent coverage by Search Engine Land of the newly announced Ask Privacy Initiative with the cute name. It appears that with the "Me Too!" announcement by Microsoft they will honor privacy concerns of users by anonymizing data after 18 months (as Google already has), that pressure is building on the search engines to offer privacy as a feature to lure new searchers.

According to Wired Magazine, Yahoo is now doing the "Me Too!" dance with this statement:

"We have decided on 13 month policy because we believe it is consistent with our commitment to our users' privacy and consistent with local data protection laws across the world," said Yahoo spokesman Jim Cullinan in a written statement.
Of all the hand waving and foot stomping, Ask really does appear to have the strongest privacy intentions. We'll see when all the noise dies down who does privacy best and who offers the most search privacy.

Meanwhile, if you want to stay on top of the news about search privacy, may I suggest you consider trying our Google Co-op powered Privacy Search Engine

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posted by RealitySEO at 8:18 PM 0 comments

Microsoft & Ask Call for Privacy Initiatives


REDMOND, Wash., and OAKLAND, Calif. — July 22, 2007 — Building on their respective efforts to protect consumer privacy, industry leaders Microsoft Corp. and Ask.com, a wholly owned business of IAC (NASDAQ: IACI), today joined together in the commitment to call on the industry to develop global privacy principles for data collection, use and protection related to searching and online advertising. The companies will work with other technology leaders, consumer advocacy organizations and academics to come together and join them in working on the development of these principles, which could include developing and sharing best practices to provide more control for consumers.

“As search and other online services progress, it’s important for our customers to be able to trust that their information is being used appropriately and in a way that provides value to them,” said Peter Cullen, chief privacy strategist at Microsoft. “We hope others in the industry will join us in developing and supporting principles that address these important issues. People should be able to search and surf online without having to navigate a complicated patchwork of privacy policies.”

“Anonymous user data can be very useful to enhance search products for all users, but people should have access to privacy controls based on their level of comfort around the storage of their search data,” said Doug Leeds, vice president of product management at Ask.com. “We’re committed to developing new ways to give consumers the control they are entitled to when it comes to searching online, and hope others will join us in engaging in dialogue on these important issues.”

Microsoft and Ask.com are proposing that leading search providers, online advertising companies and privacy advocates convene to engage in an active dialogue to discuss privacy considerations posed by the proliferation of online advertising and search. The goal of the dialogue is to determine ways that the industry can work cooperatively to define privacy principles that take these new considerations into account. The companies will provide an update on their progress in September.

More information about Microsoft’s and Ask.com’s current privacy policies and practices is available at http://www.microsoft.com/privacy and http://about.ask.com/en/docs/about/privacy.shtml.

About Ask.com

A leading search engine on the Web, Ask.com combines world-class search technology with one-of-a-kind search tools to help people get what they are looking for faster. Ask.com sites include Ask.com US (www.Ask.com), Ask.com Deutschland, Ask.com Espana, Ask.com France, Ask.com Italia, Ask.com Japan, Ask.com Nederlands and Ask.com UK. Additionally, Ask.com syndicates its search technology and advertising units to a network of affiliate partners. Ask.com is a division of IAC Search & Media, a wholly-owned business of IAC (NASDAQ: IACI).

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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posted by RealitySEO at 4:06 PM 2 comments

Monday, April 30, 2007

Search Privacy & Google Personalized Search


Could Google Personalized Search and their Web History feature be the "tipping point" for privacy issues online? The headline on this post links to a BigMouthMedia (UK SEO Company) study about user "Trust" of search engines with their personal data. The SEM company's marketing push (press release) twists the actual perceptions around to seem opposite of the real results when they suggest that users don't trust Google with their personal data (Web History, Search History, Contact Info, Financial details, etc.) when the survey numbers show very clearly that more people trust Google (38%) than trust Yahoo (23%) and trust MSN (21%) with the title "Uncertainty Over Google's Privacy Intentions".

How disingenuous. They put Google in the headline to elicit public interest when their own results show MORE people trust Google (38%) than Yahoo (23%) or MSN (21%). If the press release had been honestly headlined, it might have read "Searchers Trust Google by Two to One Margin over Other Search Engines". Is that not obvious or do people read with that shallowly and with so much disinterest? How does this benefit a search marketing company to discuss this topic just as Google Personalized Search and Web History are launching? Hmmm.

I spoke yesterday about search privacy as it relates to Google after seeing a minor flurry of posts on blogs and search industry forums. I had no idea privacy discussions would balloon because of Web History and Personalized Search from Google. The funny thing is that my personal level of trust in Google with my personal information is probably at about 80%.

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posted by RealitySEO at 8:37 PM 1 comments

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Google Personalized Web History & Privacy


The following is adapted from my comments left today at Google Engineer Matt Cutts blog. To those reading this blog who aren't aware of him, Matt is the unofficial Google top search engine spam cop. He often attends Search Engine Strategies shows discussing quality guidelines for web content among attendees who are search engine optimization specialists.

I don't often mention on this blog that I make my living as an SEO, because privacy issues are usually more related to data security than search. The issues of search and privacy do cross paths on occassion, like when AOL exposes user search queries to the world, or when the Department of Justice demands search history from the top 4 search engines.

But as I've said on my RealitySEO blog, I trust Google with my data as they've so far proven trustworthy. I've even expressed a love for Google that is beyond reason, but my high opinion of Google is not shared by everyone interested in privacy protection. With that introduction, I'll share what I had to say on Google Web History with Matt Cutts:

I'm glad to hear that privacy protection is on the mind of Googlers. The fact that Matt Cutts is discussing privacy suggests that the Web History feature has brought up internal discussions that I hope will lead to protecting that data (and all the information Google holds on individuals) from leaks, hacks and employee error.

Privacy gets little attention by anyone until their own is threatened. I attended the "Search and Privacy" session at Search Engine Strategies New York to hear an amazing panel speak to a paltry 15 attendees. The topic of privacy flares up when there is a huge gaffe committed by a major company or when the DOJ makes absurd demands. Most ignore the issue until it gets personal.

But we need to pay attention to security and privacy issues on a daily basis because data retention adds up all those daily activities into a very much larger mass of information than anyone intends for one organization to hold. Aggregation of databases is inevitable as companies sell their clickstream data, credit info, contact data, email addresses, etc. to partners, clients and customers and sometimes to bad guys.

Wherever that data resides, it will get leaked, hacked or subpoenaed. Even Google can't entirely prevent things from going wrong at every turn. I tend to trust Google simply because they have proven themselves to be trustworthy so far. If those at the top are committed to privacy protection and security of the data they hold, we're very much better off.

The data portability idea sounds great - but I suspect we'd all be shocked should we ever see the totality of information held on each of us by Google. I'm very happy to hear that protecting that data is important to you.

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posted by RealitySEO at 3:57 PM 0 comments