20060220

Radio Goo Goo 2

(recovered from Blogger database mess up, see here for more details).
This latest screed from Mountain View has caught my attention:

Google users trust that when they enter a search query into Google search box, not only will they receive back the most relevant results, but that Google will keep private whatever information users communicate absent compelling reason.

And I think to myself, this is somewhat misleading, if not very far from the case.

Firstly, whatever users happen to "trust", the fact is, the big G (and anyone else in the search biz) is going to data mine the hell out of the queries that they get. And there's no reason to expect that they'll have any concern for your privacy. They often have your google email address or IP address to tie together all your past searches, and there's no reason to expect that they will have any respect for your privacy. If a Google employee feels like finding out what you've been searching for, I'm sure that they can very easily indeed.

Now, remember that the issue in question is about something relatively innocuous sounding: whether Google should release a random sample of queries to the government. And, this release makes it sound like GOOG really care for the privacy of these queries, and won't release them to just anyone. But, here's the thing: they've been doing exactly this for years.

All you have to do is to hang around their main visitor entrance in Mountain View. This NYT article explains more: "Live Query [...] shows updated samples of what people around the world are typing into Google's search engine."

And is this a private internal tool that only Google employees can access? No, they project it onto a wall so anyone walking past can see. And apparently it was still running as recently as January. I wonder if they've switched it off?

According to Google again, "Perhaps the Government can be forgiven its glib rejection of this point because it is unfamiliar with Google's system architecture. If the Government had that familiarity, it would know that its request will take over week of engineer time to complete."

Now, there's no need to be snarky. And further, there's no need to pretend that this task is so difficult. Given that LiveQuery is already up and operational, it would only take a few minutes to pipe it to a file, then zip it up and mail it out if they chose to do so.

There are still many good reasons why Google shouldn't roll over and give up user search queries to the US Government, principal amongst these being that there's no particular reason why they should do so. But this response seems extremely at odds with reality, and definitely highlights some irrelevant or misleading points.

Here's a new motto for those page rankers to try out: Don't Be So Lame.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Google Inc (ticker symbol: GOOG) owns Blogger, this blogging service, this post, and by extension me and you. They retain the right to take these words and rearrange them to spell out anything they damn well like.

Additional disclosures: I am not an employee of Google Corp, but some of my friends are. Other people I know are no longer employees of Google Corp but got out early with a lot of shares and so are now very comfortably well off.

Public disclaimer: On the one occasion that I went to their CA office, I did indeed see Live Query in action. The rude query filter is really not very good, since some of the queries that I saw scrolling past were far from family-friendly; the young lady named in them would have quite a dry cleaning bill to pay if the events searched for ever came to pass.

4 comments:

Matthew said...


Google users trust that when they enter a search query into Google search box, not only will they receive back the most relevant results


Not Chinese Google users searching for "democracy", apparently. Not terribly good timing with that statement, methinks.

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