Monday, April 30, 2007

Search Privacy & Google Personalized Search

Could Google Personalized Search and their Web History feature be the "tipping point" for privacy issues online? The headline on this post links to a BigMouthMedia (UK SEO Company) study about user "Trust" of search engines with their personal data. The SEM company's marketing push (press release) twists the actual perceptions around to seem opposite of the real results when they suggest that users don't trust Google with their personal data (Web History, Search History, Contact Info, Financial details, etc.) when the survey numbers show very clearly that more people trust Google (38%) than trust Yahoo (23%) and trust MSN (21%) with the title "Uncertainty Over Google's Privacy Intentions".

How disingenuous. They put Google in the headline to elicit public interest when their own results show MORE people trust Google (38%) than Yahoo (23%) or MSN (21%). If the press release had been honestly headlined, it might have read "Searchers Trust Google by Two to One Margin over Other Search Engines". Is that not obvious or do people read with that shallowly and with so much disinterest? How does this benefit a search marketing company to discuss this topic just as Google Personalized Search and Web History are launching? Hmmm.

I spoke yesterday about search privacy as it relates to Google after seeing a minor flurry of posts on blogs and search industry forums. I had no idea privacy discussions would balloon because of Web History and Personalized Search from Google. The funny thing is that my personal level of trust in Google with my personal information is probably at about 80%.

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posted by RealitySEO at 8:37 PM 1 comments

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Google Personalized Web History & Privacy

The following is adapted from my comments left today at Google Engineer Matt Cutts blog. To those reading this blog who aren't aware of him, Matt is the unofficial Google top search engine spam cop. He often attends Search Engine Strategies shows discussing quality guidelines for web content among attendees who are search engine optimization specialists.

I don't often mention on this blog that I make my living as an SEO, because privacy issues are usually more related to data security than search. The issues of search and privacy do cross paths on occassion, like when AOL exposes user search queries to the world, or when the Department of Justice demands search history from the top 4 search engines.

But as I've said on my RealitySEO blog, I trust Google with my data as they've so far proven trustworthy. I've even expressed a love for Google that is beyond reason, but my high opinion of Google is not shared by everyone interested in privacy protection. With that introduction, I'll share what I had to say on Google Web History with Matt Cutts:

I'm glad to hear that privacy protection is on the mind of Googlers. The fact that Matt Cutts is discussing privacy suggests that the Web History feature has brought up internal discussions that I hope will lead to protecting that data (and all the information Google holds on individuals) from leaks, hacks and employee error.

Privacy gets little attention by anyone until their own is threatened. I attended the "Search and Privacy" session at Search Engine Strategies New York to hear an amazing panel speak to a paltry 15 attendees. The topic of privacy flares up when there is a huge gaffe committed by a major company or when the DOJ makes absurd demands. Most ignore the issue until it gets personal.

But we need to pay attention to security and privacy issues on a daily basis because data retention adds up all those daily activities into a very much larger mass of information than anyone intends for one organization to hold. Aggregation of databases is inevitable as companies sell their clickstream data, credit info, contact data, email addresses, etc. to partners, clients and customers and sometimes to bad guys.

Wherever that data resides, it will get leaked, hacked or subpoenaed. Even Google can't entirely prevent things from going wrong at every turn. I tend to trust Google simply because they have proven themselves to be trustworthy so far. If those at the top are committed to privacy protection and security of the data they hold, we're very much better off.

The data portability idea sounds great - but I suspect we'd all be shocked should we ever see the totality of information held on each of us by Google. I'm very happy to hear that protecting that data is important to you.

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posted by RealitySEO at 3:57 PM 0 comments