Privacy issue with Search Engine


Search engine (SE) is undoubtedly the best feature internet has. Especially for heavy internet users, it is everything. It increases productivity, organizes world of information (Google’s mission), answering our questions in many alternatives and so on. People are now exposed to many different information all at once just by surfing in the world of search engine such as Google. Despite all the benefit SE provides to online visitors, this technology is not without drawback. With everything integrated, like in Google (e.g Youtube for videos and Google scholar for academic articles), our trivial online activities are pretty much recorded. For example, clicking pattern on a topic of interests that are searched may represent who you really are as an individual user and how behave in online world. Moreover, SE shapes the whole idea of online Search Engine Marketing (SEM). That means online marketing strategy of corporations, big or small, now relies on SE to promote their existence in online world. Hence, information related to target market, target customers, pricing information and financial power might be visible to the SE companies (such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc) as well. It is very general assumption but the complex mathematics and algorithms behind the technology can potentially do more than keeping track of users/businesses activities. Not only it records information, it can produce new ones, like in business analytics.

Talking about privacy, one American fugitive, Edward Snowden, just recently revealed the surveillance program performed by US Government and NSA that are threatening privacy of everyone since the era of President Bush in 2001 (Greenwald, 2013). However, in current Google SE, it can do almost similar things, though in smaller scale, such as accessing to your location (G. Latitude), transcript of your conversation (G. Voice), schedule and activities (G. Calendar, YouTube, Books, Mail) and even health condition (G. Health). The difference is users are trusting these tools. Take example of Google Health, the SE helps you research the disease, communicate with the doctor via Google Mail, save the appointment in your Google calendar and later locate your location for simplicity (Robert L. M., 2009). Here, users are willing to share information because they see the benefit for them. However, this is just the beginning before they start giving many other information such as personal address, credit card/insurance number or other family details.

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google says it will try to answer questions such as “What shall I do tomorrow?” or “What job shall I take?” Owing to that, in the future, too dominant SE may not only become an information portal but a decision maker for all the people. In other words, the company may well be informed about the customers as it determines what they will see. This is a madness if corporation is able to manipulate the search results/answers/advertisements and thus controlling people’s live through technology. Thus, if it is not controlled and governed by rigorous law, future SE equipped with more-advanced technology can become significant issue for privacy. If Facebook can show our friends, SE is able to show how we make friends, recognize our friend’s voice, and even decide who will become our best friend.

References:

Greenwald, G (2013). NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily. The Guardian. [Online]. June 6th 2013. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order

Robert L. M. (2009). What Google Knows About You. ComputerWorld. [Online]. May 19th 2009. Available from: http://www.computerworld.com/article/2551008/networking/what-google-knows-about-you.html?page=3

 

 

 

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One response to “Privacy issue with Search Engine”

  1. 337174mg says :

    Good piece of work! This is the kind of privacy concerns which frightens, I presume, a lot of people.

    A few weeks ago, I was watching the documentary ‘Terms and conditions may apply’ from Cullen Hoback (2013) and was astonished about their findings concerning privacy in search records. The example beneath shows how search records are not deanonymized at all, even though most of the users think they are. By using the ‘red flag system’, an information reporting system that reports red flags in case of suspicious behavior, users can be traced (College, 2014).

    The documentary makers found out that search data enables AOL to track a user, based on its search queries. The following happened: a specific user looked for ‘how to kill my wife’, ‘dead people’, ‘decapitated photos’ and ‘car accident’ on the internet. Suspicious enough, in the middle of those search queries, the user looked up ‘steak and cheese’, which suggests that the user does not know how to cook a meal him- or herself. Plenty of internet users were sure: this is a user who has the intention to kill his wife. The documentary makers visited this user and after showing him the list with search records, he confessed he looked those up. In fact, it turned out this user is a writer for ‘Cold Case’, a TV-show that involves crime.

    This is an example of how simple information can create a misunderstanding and how easy it is for the government to trace people based on their search data. I hope this example count as a wake-up call for everyone, especially elderly, about the privacy of their information on the internet.

    Sources:
    College, G. (2014). Red Flag Information Reporting System. [online] Greenriver.edu. Available at: http://www.greenriver.edu/about-us/campus-safety/red-flag-information-reporting-system.htm [Accessed 29 Sep. 2014].

    Terms and conditions may apply. (2013) [Film].

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