Friday, May 18, 2012

Web Search and Privacy

Personalized Search at a Cost

Web search companies collect and correlate lots of information that you voluntarily hand to them in order to deliver search results that are most relevant to you. I first wrote about this over a year ago in a post called Saving Private Browsing. By knowing a little more about you, they can give you merchant and restaurant results that are local, and search results that are in the context you probably intended. This is clearly a mixed blessing, though. First of all, it robs you of the serendipity of the unexpected (see my blog post Web As Echo Chamber) that can come when you search from outside your customized bubble. More than that, though, the collection, storage and correlation of lots of data about you can feel creepy as was found in a recent Pew Internet study. In that study, 73% of respondents said that they would "NOT BE OKAY with a search engine keeping track of searches and using that information to personalize future search results, because it is an invasion of privacy."

To expand on this thinking, consider the implications of a search engine company such as Google that also may handle your email (Gmail), your work and personal documents (Docs and Drive), and your casual video entertainment (YouTube). Correlating all that information could result in a dossier about you that might be eerily thick.

An ARS Technica article this week discussed this in more detail and talks about the approaches that alternative search engines such as DuckDuckGo are taking. In a nutshell, they are going out of their way to protect the privacy of those who use them for search. If that sounds interesting to you, why not give them a try?

A rapid change in our digital life from information we maintain on our own hard drive to information in the cloud, and from separate bite-sized information elements with minimal correlation to collected information that is mined and analyzed seems to me to be an enormous shift. That shift may be an insidious one because it's mostly invisible today.

How do you feel about collection, correlation and storage of information about you? Leave a comment and let us know.


Thanks for reading! Blogs work best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please give it a +1 and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.

No comments:

Post a Comment