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Better Search Privacy Needs Addressing Overall

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What Search Sites Know About You from Wired looks at the issue of search privacy. As usual, Google gets to be the whipping boy of concern when Yahoo and MSN, among others, should also be on stage for any potential criticism.

Newsflash, Chris Hoofnagle of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. You're apparently particularly wary of Google, because many search there, use email on Google and and make use of its social networking service Orkut. Then be just as particularly wary of Yahoo (and apologies if you were as well, and that didn't make it into this Wired article). It's also incredibly popular, with people searching, reading email, social networking -- and many doing this all while also signed in with personally identifiable data.

Indeed, someone's search history is one of the factors Yahoo already uses when it decides to behaviorally target non-textual ads on the Yahoo site. Google's yet to actually demonstrate any use of a search profile. Yahoo is and has been already doing it, but it's Google that gets painted as having the "finger" on all our data.

Privacy concerns are valid -- let's just point them at the industry as a whole, rather then pulling out one bogeyman to beat up on. People need to have better awareness that what they search for on major search engines could be used to profile them. Search policies need to better address what exactly may be done with search queries in particular. And search engines may need to add their collective weight to push for ISPs not to share data.

Go ahead -- turn off your cookies on Google, don't sign-in to Yahoo and even use some anonymous surfing service such as Anonymizer. Make sure you run your own ISP as well. Otherwise, your ISP has a record of everything you are doing on the web, including searches -- and that data is already being shared for search profiling.

There are real pluses to having search profiles. Potentially, they can improve search results. Potentially, they can improve the ads we see. Profiling is already here to some degree and will only grow. Good protections of our search privacy needs to grow alongside this, on search engines and across the internet.

Some past reading on this subject:


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