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


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