Thursday, August 10, 2006

You are what you search

Your thoughts, your intentions, your desires, your very self is truly expressed in what you search for on the internet. The average person, according to AOL's "screwup" data, searches for help, advice, or current events. And porn. Lots of it. But we'll overlook that. AOL recently published three months' worth of data on what people searched for, albeit with the identities changed to anonymous numbers. But several amateurs were able to effortlessly piece together the names behind the numbers simply by looking at the search history and pattern. Granted, this was on AOL's own server where AOL has a pretty good idea as to who is making the search to begin with, but the same thing could easily be done with any normal internet search engine, including everyone's favorite darling search company, Google.

Google admitedly stores your search history. Google's scientists and their algorithms pour over your every single search. All in the name of commercialism, of course. Never mind the fact that Google employs ex-NSA grunts. Google is not the only one. All of them do this. Yahoo, MSN, Excite, Alta Vista -- they all have dubious privacy policies.

These search companies have a lot of tricks at their disposal to create a complete profile of you. There's the obvious ones: cookies, ip addresses, images, embedded objects, and etc. There's the not so obvious ones: clustering, semantic analysis, geographic inference, and etc. Then there's the downright evil ones, such as cross profile mapping. The credit card companies already have a complete profile of you. When you buy something on the internet, they can easily share that information with a vendor, who can then easily share that information with the search engine that you used to find the vendor, which then adds to your online profile.

Sure, there's going to be a ton of noise in the data. But with a lot of tricks, that noise is greatly reduced. The companies will never be 100% confident of who is actually behind the keyboard, but they'll have a pretty good idea.

So what are these profiles actually used for? The soft answer is targeted advertisement. But God help us if Google is just a front for some government organization. The US government would be bad enough, but it could be worse.

I know I'm sounding pretty paranoid here - after all, it's just a search engine. But you are what you search. And how that information is used - or abused - is completely proportional to how easily identifiable you are through your searches. Check out www.scroogle.org if you'd like to hide behind a no-cookie, no-image, no-embedded-object, no-ip-collecting proxy.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good thing Google is a private entity. Private entities can be told no, even if it is over and over and over again. And who cares if they make money on the information that I give them.

Its not the companies that we ought to fear. Companies fight poverty, they provide jobs. They provide more for our country than anything.

The government, however ought to be feared. The government can't be excaped. The government can't be denied. If you try either of those, you become and enemy of the state. They will imprison you, strip you of your freedom.

If the Government wants to raise more money, all they have to do is take it from you. And you can not refuse them. You can not deny them of this. In Government you find the ultimate in greed.

I don't care what Google marketers think about what I search for. However, I do get afraid when the government tries to force Google to turn over its search records (http://techdirt.com/articles/20060119/0245242.shtml).

Now, we have a real problem.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good thing Google is a private entity. Private entities can be told no, even if it is over and over and over again. And who cares if they make money on the information that I give them.

Its not the companies that we ought to fear. Companies fight poverty, they provide jobs. They provide more for our country than anything.

The government, however ought to be feared. The government can't be excaped. The government can't be denied. If you try either of those, you become and enemy of the state. They will imprison you, strip you of your freedom.

If the Government wants to raise more money, all they have to do is take it from you. And you can not refuse them. You can not deny them of this. In Government you find the ultimate in greed.

I don't care what Google marketers think about what I search for. However, I do get afraid when the government tries to force Google to turn over its search records (http://techdirt.com/articles/20060119/0245242.shtml).

Now, we have a real problem.

9:25 AM  

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