August 10, 2006

Search Engine Privacy


Web site privacy issues in general, and search engine privacy concerns in particular, are turning into a three-ring circus of ironies.

I discuss these issues until I'm figuratively blue in the face and yet it's deja vu over and over again.

The article referenced below in fact failed to mention the key aspect of the search engine data situation that makes this all so bizarre. We have Rep. Markey, et al. pushing data destruction laws in the wake of DOJ's push (in support of their Child Online Protection Act case) to get Google's query data -- which Google wisely resisted, though ultimately they had to turn some of that data over to DOJ. I do agree with some observers who feel that Markey's proposal is so encompassing that it remains unlikely to ever become law -- I'd much prefer to see more highly targeted and focused legislation.

But meanwhile, as some of us had been predicting for ages, DOJ/Gonzales are out there pushing for broad Web site data retention laws -- ostensibly (do we see a pattern emerging?) using child abuse investigations as the hook.

Gang, we can't have it both ways in any kind of simplistic scenario. The simple choices are (1) Burn the data to prevent abuse -- and also prevent any other non-abusive uses of that data, or (2) Retain the data, along with major internal and external abuse potentials.

The simplistic scenarios are each highly problematic. We need to advance these issues in more sophisticated directions.

The only research and policy paths I see that could possibly lead toward better outcomes in this area are being largely ignored by the major players, so we have this repeating cycle of events and reactions banging back and forth.

A few months ago, in: "An Open Letter to Google: Concepts for a Google Privacy Initiative", I set forth a proposal urging Google, as the global search leader, to apply its formidable resources toward advancing these issues -- both for Google's own benefit and ultimately for the benefit of the entire global community. In light of the whole series of recent events relating to the Web site data retention/destruction sphere, I assert that such efforts are needed now, on a priority basis.

As I've noted previously, we must demand that our data be protected. Accomplishing this properly requires serious thinking, hard work, and in the real world more than a little compromise. We need to develop effective and reasonable technology and policy paths toward management of the vast amounts of personally-related data that Web sites are collecting. AOL's search query data screw-up is bad enough, but it's only a drop in the bucket compared with the sorts of abuses and problems that could take place if we don't move forward appropriately. We can be enriched by data, or we can be enslaved by it. The choice remains ours.


- - -

> AOL gaffe draws Capitol Hill rebuke
> By Declan McCullagh
> Democratic politician says flap shows new laws are necessary to force
> Web sites to delete data. Not everyone is convinced ...

Posted by Lauren at August 10, 2006 09:36 PM | Permalink
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