Where’s The Privacy Freak Out Over Search Personalization?

Alan Chapell raises a good question in his Amazon.com’s A9 Adventure article. Why haven’t privacy advocates
freaked out loudly and in large numbers about a9 and its personal search features? Only a few months ago, privacy concerns over Google’s Gmail made headlines.

I agree with one of his Chapell’s main arguments, that Amazon’s built a reputation of trust with many of its users for handling personal information well (though Amazon
subsidary Alexa did agree to settle a privacy dispute back in 2001).

Perhaps part of the reason the a9 launch (and other personal search features debuting since then from
Ask Jeeves and Yahoo) haven’t raised
more ire is because search privacy was raised as an issue last year.

Perhaps. I think the real answer is that people still aren’t largely thinking much about search privacy. Gmail wasn’t a search privacy issue. It was an email privacy one.
I think people know inherently that there are private things sent via email. The idea that that email is going to be analyzed to show ads — even through an automated process
— sounds scary.

Another reason may be that Amazon’s a9 simply isn’t used by that many people. In contrast, Google is by various metrics still the most popular search engine. What it does
in terms of search impacts many more people.

In fact, that’s one reason why Google got singled out for privacy concerns back in 2002 and 2003 relating directly to search. It was so big that privacy advocates figured
it deserved the most attention.

In contrast, I think search is seen largely as a transient thing to many people. They really don’t stop to think much about the very personal things they look up. They’ve
also had no real experience with this information actively being recorded in a way they can use, unlike with email.

Last year, I looked at search privacy issues in my Search Privacy At Google & Other Search Engines
article. I explained then how search was largely ignored as a privacy concern compared to things like cookies because search features themselves had no “memory” to them. Now
that search memory tools have arrived big time, I’m sure we’ll see search privacy concerns grow as such tools become used.

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