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Old 07-14-2005   #1
dannysullivan
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How Should Search Engines Protect Privacy?

Google's balancing act from News.com from News.com is one of a latest of new articles revisiting an old theme, Google as privacy monster. Personally, I'm tired of the hype and the Google fixation. My blog post today, Moving Past Google Privacy Fears & Toward An Industry Solution references past articles and raises a number of issues, as well as my frustration that we don't seem to have progressed much since 2002/2003.

I want to move more toward what the actual concerns are across the board for search and what solutions should be considered. So please -- what worries you on privacy? What are you afraid of? What would you like to see implemented?

Last edited by dannysullivan : 07-14-2005 at 09:41 AM.
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Old 07-14-2005   #2
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Part of the reason we haven't seen much progress since 2002/2003 is because search engine marketers kept pooh-poohing the issue.

Danny, you say "There are real concerns. I'm not dismissing these at all. There's potential for both corporate and governmental abuse of search profiles. But what we need is less hype, less putting one player in a corner and more actual suggestions of things that everyone can implement."

This is the first time I've seen you admit, since 2002/2003, that there are real concerns. I'm not convinced that you believe it.

Your approach until now has been similar to your approach to the issue of copyright law and the Google library project. That is to say, Google is already violating copyright with the cache copy, so why worry about the library project? In fact, we should be worried about both of these. I've been worried about the cache copy since 2001, and now I'm worried about the library issue. That doesn't mean that I've stopped worrying about the cache copy.

Similarly, on the privacy issue, I've been dissed by you more times than I care to remember on the issue of Google privacy. Yes, Yahoo is doing the same thing, Yes, Amazon is doing the same thing, Yes, MSN is doing the same thing.

You ask, why single out Google? But 18 months ago there was no Amazon web search, and no independent Yahoo web search, and no independent MSN search. I was worried about Google privacy back in 2000, and I'm still worried about Google privacy. The fact that others are now doing it is directly related to the fact that I was unable to generate any concern over Google back in 2000. If Google gets away with it, one can hardly expect Google's competitors to take the high road.

And guess why Google is getting away with it? Because search engine marketers have failed to notice that there is a real problem here.

Your appeal is too little, too late, and all I can do now is yawn. However, one solution comes to mind for all engines, since you asked. We need governments to impose regulations on search engines so that data retention policies are specified by the engine, audited for compliance by an independent body, and enforced with criminal penalties. There is no reason why engines should be allowed to keep user data indefinitely. You don't need that much data, unless your intentions are evil.

And of course, we all know that Google isn't evil, because they've told us so.
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Old 07-14-2005   #3
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Because search engine marketers have failed to notice that there is a real problem here.
I don't see how you can blame the searc marketers for that! We don't own neither the search enginers or the users mind. If users have a privacy issue they should talk to the ngines - not the search marketers. We don't have any more to say in this than any other average user.
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Old 07-14-2005   #4
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Originally Posted by Everyman
You don't need that much data, unless your intentions are evil.

And of course, we all know that Google isn't evil, because they've told us so.
Please do not take this as a personal attack! This is my opinion on these issues and I strive to be frank about any subject.

Marketers need data to continue to market. If you don't like living in a capitalist world, then move to the Amazon or something. Any characterization of data collection as "evil" makes me yawn-after a laugh.

There are plenty of other resources on the Internet or even in *gasp* libraries if one is so worried about who is watching, in my opinion. This reminds me of a post that I saw yesterday on a yahoo message board which states that the only people that hate cops are criminals.

The Elanor Mills article linked in Danny's post makes me laugh too. Typical journalistic chatter aimed at getting more reads, IMO.

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Assuming Schmidt uses his company's services, someone with access to Google's databases could find out what he writes in his e-mails and to whom he sends them, where he shops online or even what restaurants he's located via online maps. Like so many other Google users, his virtual life has been meticulously recorded.
hello! Any email system is subject to hackers. regular mail gets stolen sometimes too. Even a whisper can be overheard with the right equipment. I could care less if someone knows where I have shopped or eaten. Of course I am a marketer by nature, so this is probably why I take this stance.

That being said, if this was unknowingly being recorded, then I may feel that privacy was being invaded. Unfortunately, "unknowingly" often means "didn't read the TOS." Ignorance of a law doesn't make someone not subject to it, and ignorance of a policy should be the same. For example, downloading the G toolbar I should know that I am probably not getting something for totally free. From the Google Toolbar Privacy page:

Quote:
We believe these features will greatly enhance your browsing experience. We understand, however, you may not agree that the benefits provided by these features outweigh the information we must collect. For this reason, we provide you the opportunity to disable these features on the Privacy Information page (accessed by selecting "Privacy Information..." in the Toolbar's "Google" menu) or, for our web page-enhancing features such as AutoLink, Spellcheck and Dictionary, on the Options page (also accessed from the "Google" menu). With the advanced features disabled, no information about the page you are viewing will be sent to Google unless you explicitly request more information about that page (such as with the "Cached Snapshot", "Backward Links" or "Similar Pages" features).
From the G-Mail privacy page: (just a short snippet-this entire page should be read by those worried about G-mail)

Quote:
What we did not anticipate was the reaction from some privacy activists, editorial writers and legislators, many of whom condemned Gmail without first seeing it for themselves. We were surprised to find that some of these activists and organizations refused to even talk to us, or to try first-hand the very service they were criticizing. As we read news stories about Gmail, we have regularly noticed factual errors and out-of-context quotations. Misinformation about Gmail has spread across the web.

Bottom line: read the TOS or buy software to protect yourself if you are worried about your surfing habits being monitored. Secondly: If you are worried about your emails possibly being read: don't email anyone. Technology can be beaten. This is a risk that we have to take in order to use technology.

my 2 cents (I usually don't say that but I figure I might as well since this response is sure to draw criticism)
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Old 07-14-2005   #5
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I found that the very best privacy protection is to just unplug your computer and go fishing or something

Honestly, I don't understand people that want to go to a party (the Web) but don't want anyone to see them (get tracked). If you don't want to play then don't. Dobody is forcing you.

Having said that, some extremes form of privacy abuse should off course be stoped - and is in fact often so. But the everyday tracking and profiling that takes place at all the best websites online today is nothing worth fighting against, in my opinion.

There are so many great things your can be real paranoid about - why focus so much on the least interesting area there is
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Old 07-14-2005   #6
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Everyman, glad you came by -- was hoping you would, actually.

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This is the first time I've seen you admit, since 2002/2003, that there are real concerns. I'm not convinced that you believe it.
Not so. I have said this before. Moreover, I didn't spend all that time talking with you for the Big Brother nomination (and showing the respect for your ideas, rather than "dissing you" as you say) and writing one of the longest things I've ever written if I though there was nothing there. I treated the concerns you raised seriously, talked to you, Google, others and tried to give my own verdict on things. Those verdicts weren't necessarily pro-Google. I said things like:

Quote:
For its part, Google might consider Brandt's idea of a renewal-based cookie, if only to ease concerns that some might, however unfounded those concerns might be. User preferences can also be stored in a cookie that does not have a user ID, something a recent survey found that Teoma does. Perhaps Google might allow users to accept this as an alternative to having to simply reject a cookie outright.
But sometimes you didn't yourself know what you wanted them to do:

Quote:
"Inquiries to Google about their privacy policies are ignored," Brandt writes in his fourth nomination point. Proof of this? He says that a letter he wrote Google last year has never been answered.

While it would have been a good PR move for Google to have answered Brandt, this isn't enough evidence alone to suggest that Google is silent on why it collects standard web server data. In fact, Google does have a privacy policy that offers several reason why it monitors data.

So what else does Brandt want spelled out? He didn't have an exact answer to this but rather came back to the central issue of wanting data purged on a regular basis:
Other things you were clear on:

Quote:
As for Brandt, safeguarding isn't enough. He wants Google to keep data no longer than 30 to 60 days, in order to prevent it from being mined by the US government.
But not everyone agrees with you on that.

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Your appeal is too little, too late, and all I can do now is yawn. However, one solution comes to mind for all engines, since you asked. We need governments to impose regulations on search engines so that data retention policies are specified by the engine, audited for compliance by an independent body, and enforced with criminal penalties. There is no reason why engines should be allowed to keep user data indefinitely. You don't need that much data, unless your intentions are evil.
I hardly think it is too late. That's especially so in that Google itself, in my view, has yet to do anything wrong. You can disagree on that, which is fine. But frankly, the going back over past history is a waste of time. Search engines are still a yound industry, personalization has literally just solidly arrived and it's a good time to revisit the issue not with hype, not with scare, but with a good look at what people think should happen. I'm looking forward.

And in doing that, get more specific. Government regulation. OK, what exactly. Are you OK with them keeping data longer, if there's some auditing board? What would that auditing board do? What is OK for the data to be used for and not.

Last edited by dannysullivan : 07-14-2005 at 04:48 PM.
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Old 07-14-2005   #7
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related

Interesting related read here. especially rcjordan's post #4 discussing the Patry Copyright Blog.

Once information is made public, it should be permanently "referenceable," in my opinion. I know we are talking about content-providers instead of searchers/surfers here, but why shouldn't search user data also fall into this category? A good example would be if someone such as a child molester searches for and visits a certain chat room and a few months later is accused of attacking another member of that room. Wouldn't this visitor data be considered important evidence?

I have already refered to the idea of "opting out" of having data saved if you use the G Toolbar, or another toolbar that tracks such behavior.

Danny, has the description of cookie-based tracking that you described in 2003 here changed? If not, what is anyone afraid of? I know you are having a good discussion with everyman here, and I do not mean to interrupt, but I would appreciate clarification so I can read this thread with a little more background...

Last edited by Chris Boggs : 07-14-2005 at 06:42 PM. Reason: clarification/adjustment of timeline in example
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Old 07-14-2005   #8
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Iím probably in the minority here but I donít think search engines should be under any obligation to protect privacy. Being online is a choice, not a requirement. If you choose to be online you choose to give up some privacy. Just like if you choose to use a credit card, ipass, a phone or any other form of automation you choose to give up some privacy.

*Most* of the people who are frightened or scared about online privacy issues are scared because they donít understand the online world. They have not taken the time or expended the energy to fully understand how things work in the online world. They fear what they do not understand.

The last thing the industry needs is any more government regulation or intervention. Pretty much everything the government (at least here in the states) gets involved in ends up being slower, less secure and more inefficient than it was before the government intervened.
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Old 07-15-2005   #9
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Before I can even continue with this discussion, which I probably cannot, let's dump the notion that if you don't like the tracking done by search engines, then you don't have to use them.

If you want light after sundown, you need electricity. If you want access to information, you need the Internet. Several times a day I get an answer from the Internet in a few minutes. Prior to the Internet, the same answer would have required hours, and I'd most likely have to hop in the car to drive to the library, which is bad for the environment and messes up my head because I'm too old to fight traffic constantly.

Does Google deserve the credit for this? No, the Internet deserves the credit. Google was a latecomer to web crawling and search. For a brief window, they did it better than others, but that window has passed. I can admit that the Internet has had a major positive impact on me, without giving any credit to Google.

For many people in information-related professions, the Internet is a huge step forward. I say that without any reference to ecommerce, because I'm not involved in ecommerce. But let me add that I can find out if the item I want is in stock at a local Radio Shack before I even hop in my car, with just a few clicks on the keyboard. Even for commerce, the Internet is a good thing in many respects.

Why am I blabbering like this? Because I'm trying to make the point that for many of us in many different professions, the Internet is nearly as important as power or running water.

Power and running water are regulated. When Enron plays games with deregulated power in California, the feds come down on them (eventually) and greedy traders go to jail.

I'm saying that the Internet should be regulated in terms of privacy. We are far past the point where anyone can seriously claim that if you have a privacy problem with the Internet, then stop using it. Let's drop that one right now. The Internet is a utility, like power and running water, for many people in information-related professions.
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Old 07-15-2005   #10
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I'm saying that the Internet should be regulated in terms of privacy.
Everyman, that's fine. Not everyone will agree that it should be regulated. But I don't think you have to feel you need to respond to that portion. I think it would be far more interesting to hear what exactly you think should be in place.

Quote:
*Most* of the people who are frightened or scared about online privacy issues are scared because they donít understand the online world. They have not taken the time or expended the energy to fully understand how things work in the online world. They fear what they do not understand.
I'd add to this that many don't understand the profiling that happens in the offline world, various databases that get combined to know a lot about you. We get concerned about the "could happen" with search engines while the "actually happening" with our offline data to me is sometimes frightening.

Having said this, just because that's the way it may be offline doesn't mean online -- or search engines -- have to be that way. I suspect there are things search engines can do to provide more reassurance to those who want to use them about privacy protection. There may be plenty they can do without government intervention, for example.

That's what I'm wondering about -- what do those who are concerned think would be good to happen. Mikkel's sort of right. You want protection? Unplug -- unplug from the web, unplug from society generally to the degree we can't. The better solution is to see what can be done to provide reassurance.

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Danny, has the description of cookie-based tracking that you described in 2003 here changed?
Since then, Google has far more use of its Google Accounts, so that when you are logged in, it has a somewhat better idea of who you are -- at least the email address you provided. Delete your cookies but sign back in, and they again know it's you -- the email address.

It's still pretty impersonal, compared to the reg. data that MSN and Yahoo collect. But I'm sure Google will get more personal in its collection of data, just like the others.

The bigger issue to me is now, Google and Yahoo both have significant personalization features. And Ask and A9 have search history features. With the first two, you are creating a search profile that potentially can be used for various things. No one seems to be abusing this stuff so far. But I don't think a lot of people are aware that such a profile is being created. Moreover, last time I looked, there wasn't a lot of stuff perhaps reassuring you what or what may not happen to your profile now or if the company is sold, acquired, etc.

So with Google -- in the past, the worry was really hmm -- they've cookied you, and if someone got your computer, then managed to get to all of Google's data, they might tie the two together. For varoius reasons, this was unlikely. And Google itself said it wasn't doing anything like this on its end. Skip to today. Sign up for personalized search, and you're actively tracked. It's with your permission, of course -- but now lots of people are creating profiles that could be tapped into much more easily. Meanwhile, the same case is true with Yahoo, A9 and to a degree with Ask.
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Old 07-15-2005   #11
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Originally Posted by Everyman
Before I can even continue with this discussion, which I probably cannot, let's dump the notion that if you don't like the tracking done by search engines, then you don't have to use them.
Sorry, but I think thatís part of this discussion.

You made the comparison to power (electricity). If you want power, you have to give certain information to the company that provides it. You have to surrender some of your privacy. You canít call the power company and say I want power at this address, but I wonít give you a name or anything else. I will show up once a month and pay you in cash. Same goes with another item thatís almost a requirement these days Ė a credit card. You surrender tons of information when you apply and subsequently use the card.

I know dozens of people who ďdonít like the InternetĒ so they donít use it. They get by just fine. Itís not a requirement Ė itís a convenience.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dannysullivan
I'd add to this that many don't understand the profiling that happens in the offline world, various databases that get combined to know a lot about you. We get concerned about the "could happen" with search engines while the "actually happening" with our offline data to me is sometimes frightening.
Dead on. Iíve been direct marketing for 10+ years. People would be amazed at what information is available to the marketer that wants it.
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Old 07-15-2005   #12
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good analogy, chicago.

Danny, you said:

Quote:
Since then, Google has far more use of its Google Accounts, so that when you are logged in, it has a somewhat better idea of who you are -- at least the email address you provided. Delete your cookies but sign back in, and they again know it's you -- the email address.
Are you suggesting that if I login to an AdWords account, and do not again delete cookies afterwards, that Google continues to track my info once I am out of their system and surfing another site? If so, what about if I close the browser? I am pretty sure that you are not suggesting this, but perhaps am a little more concerned if that is the case.
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Old 07-16-2005   #13
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If the power company was able to track every appliance in terms of when I turned it on or off, and kept this information forever, then I think there would a privacy issue.

There is a fairly reasonable Associated Press article on Google privacy issues by Anick Jesdanun that just came out some hours ago. It will probably be all over the place within a day or two, but the link I gave is one of only several that I can find right now.

Danny is quoted in it. I almost got quoted in it, as Mr. Jesdanun interviewed me on June 27 for almost an hour. But then on July 6, a local AP photographer called me for a picture, and I declined because I don't want my face to end up on Google images and Yahoo images for the rest of my life. As it turns out, my name doesn't even appear in the article. However, it touches on some of the issues that I hoped it would cover.
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Old 07-16-2005   #14
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Hey Danny & Daniel

It is real funny that Yahoo had it's little problem with Gator/Claira and now Microsoft is said to be looking real hard at a purchase of Claria.

Just think, with Microsoft browserless search and Claria collecting data on each click for Microsoft, we will have a data mining monster much worse than even Google can come up with.

At least everyone knows that Google is a known data miner.

How much do we know about Yahoo and Microsoft?
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Old 07-16-2005   #15
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Old 07-16-2005   #16
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Its about disclosure.

Yahoo! is quite specific in what it will and will not do and they are quite upfront about it.

http://privacy.yahoo.com/privacy/us/

Google as usual is about as clear as mud.

http://www.google.com/privacy.html

When someone like google trips and makes waves the rest of the community will suffer. Ultimately the market will decide who to trust and I don't see google as winning that particular war with their top secret persona, they just play too coy for anyone to take them at face value.
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Old 07-16-2005   #17
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Thanks SEObook

So who are we to trust, Microsoft who wants to buy Gator/Claira

Does anyone think Microsoft who is responsible for most of the spyware that exists on the internet because of a flawed OS and IE is any better than what Google will do
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Old 07-16-2005   #18
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Trust revolves around honesty. Playing dodgey doesn't endear one to trust you.

So many things are "under the table" at G its ridiculous.

Conversion tracking for example. Most marketers are concerned with sharing sales data with G but what would happen if G actually disclosed to the user that clicking on an ad would give them (G) the abillity to see what they bought, from whom and at what time for what price? Ask google what they do with conversion data. See what they say.

As a search marketer shouldn't you be concerned with your vendors activities? Do you want to be associated with conversion tracking if it becomes a public issue? Would G put a disclaimer under the ad blocks?

What about your own duty to maintain a trusted realtionship with your users, do you inform them that G is watching their transaction go through? Should you tell them?

Last edited by hardball : 07-16-2005 at 04:24 PM.
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Old 07-16-2005   #19
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I have asked you if you think that Microsoft/Gator/Claria will be any better than Google if they acquire Claria

I back any new laws that will block transmission of click data to ANY third party.

This includes, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft or anyone else period.
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Old 07-16-2005   #20
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Anthony you are asking what is better; a pickpocket or a cat burglar, I really don't know, I don't want to be associated with either one of them. My understanding of privacy legislation is that it revolves around one concept: disclosure.

Disclosure (honesty) is generally believed to be a good business principle. So, how should search marketers protect their business? Maybe by demanding transparency from their vendors.
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