Is Google Search Privacy An Issue?

from the calm-down-everyone dept

There’s been a ton of Google-backlash in the last few months, much of which hasn’t been backed up by any real reasoning other than that Google has been hugely successful. Danny Sullivan has written a good article picking apart the myth that Google is violating your privacy. Basically, when you get down to the details, the complaint is “Google uses cookies”. Of course, millions of sites uses cookies. People always seem to have a fear of how cookies violate privacy, but when you look at the details it just isn’t true. If it’s really bothersome to you, turn off cookies – or don’t use Google. Either way, it’s a choice you make. No one is forcing you to use either technology, but most people do, because there are plenty of benefits – and the real threat to privacy is almost non-existent.

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Comments on “Is Google Search Privacy An Issue?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

People get cookies and trojens mixed up. Sure, cookies across a network of several dozen sites could theorectically invade your privecey on some miniscule level, but nothing big enough to notice. Trojens on the other hand are a lot more dangerous. I cought one the other day which generated so many popups with IE, that it crashed my computer system. Luckily, I was able to disable the key logger part of it, although I could never quite figure out what DLL is was using. This is a growing problem to those of us who know what they are doing, but a confusing and frustrating one to those that dont. Education is probably the safest bet here…

Phibian says:

No Subject Given

Much of the Google backlash I’ve seen is related to the following assertions:

-Google can use localization techniques to provide each user with a customized search based on where they are. In theory, they could provide users with a search based on the browser they are accessing Google with. This provides them with enormous power (the ability to turn on and off portions of the Internet at a regional and individual level).

-Google could theoretically be used as a “wire-tap”, except unlike a wire-tap, once the information is accessed, historical information reaching back 35 years would be available. Sure, the information is not personally identifiable. But it is possible to trace a path from the Google cookie to the account that was used, which often will result in being able to narrow down the person significantly.

Having followed this debate rather closely, I think this article rather oversimplifies the questions raised.

The real issue is that Google has managed to accumulate an enormous amount of power and have also developped the tools necessary to harness that power. Furthermore, the sale of information gathered is a vital part of their business model. Although Google has never abused their information, the fact that they *could* has made many people nervous.

If Google were smart, rather than pooh-poohing the concerns raised, they would address them. So far, I think their strategy has been rather poor public relations.

One big piece of ammunition used by the paranoia camp is the fact that Google’s cookie lasts for 35 years. I’ve never seen any commentary from Google as to why 35 years is necessary (and I suspect it isn’t…) A plausible explanation and/or shortening the period of the cookie would go a long way towards making the backlash camp happier.

Removing the “phone home” and silent updating of their browser tool bar would also silence many critics.

Goldstien says:

The sky is falling....

I’m a little amazed at all the people who are all twitched out by Google. Aside from being the best, Google seems to be among the most benign search engines. Last time I checked Google used no web bugs or Javascript in any of it’s ever growing myriad of search pages, and these types of malicious code seem to be a much greater security threat than anything that Google does.
There is a popular myth that Americans are concerned about their privacy. Statistically they are not, but they DO like to talk about it. In the 21st century your privacy ‘default’ is zero and it you want more you must create it yourself and nurture it.
If you want privacy, use JunkBuster or Proxomitron, shut off your Javascript, disable cookies, and use a good online pricacy service. Google will still work fine. Have all the Henny Pennys out there done ANYTHING to protect their own privacy?
Google is very good at what they do but they are NOT in the privacy business.

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