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 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.


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, August 27, 2007

DHS Shuts ADVISE Data-Mining System Citing Privacy

According to the Christian Science Monitor, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Data Mining project called ADVISE (Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement - WHEW!) had been in effect for over 18 months before it was killed by privacy assessment requirements from their own "Office of the Inspector General" (OIG) While at first blush it appears that we've got sufficient oversight in place with the OIG of DHS, I think it more likely that they simply chose to avoid informing that office of the status and scope of the project - or that OIG got involved only after a muckracking journalist or whistleblowing staffer got involved.

The interesting thing here is that DHS launched this project after two similar projects were killed - Total Information Awareness from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) and the TALON Terrorism database program headed by the Pentagon - were shut down for the same reasons, although oversight for those agencies comes from the GAO (Government Accountability Office).

So the question becomes which government agency is currently working on a similar program and do they all share their data and findings with each other as each project is killed for privacy concerns. These data mining spooks are bound to come up with a fully operational system that stays out of the privacy spotlight by the time a fifth or sixth agency has built their system and input all the data from each of the other programs.

Each agency in turn develops new advances and seeks more ways to stay out of the crosshairs of privacy advocates, then shuts down operations and passes it to the next agency when they are found out.

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posted by RealitySEO at 12:39 PM 0 comments