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Google commits itself to “anonymising” search logs; Privacy International labels Google’s attitude to privacy as hostile

Posted by gasweek on 25 September, 2007

As Google compiles more information about individuals, it faces numerous trade-offs, reported The Australian Financial Review (5/9/2007, p. 61).

Google could use personal history to serve more useful serach results: At one extreme it could use a person’s search history and advertising responses in combination with, say, his location and the itinerary in his calendar, to serve increasingly useful and welcome search results and ads. This would also allow Google to make money from its many new services. But it could scare users away.

Privacy Internationl berates Google: As a warning, Privacy International, a human-rights watchdog in London, has berated Google, charging that its attitude to privacy “at its most blatant is hostile, and at its most benign is ambivalent”. In reality, the balance must be struck somewhere in between. Schmidt, Page and Brin have had many meetings on the subject and have made several changes in recent months.

Changes to search logs and cookies: First, says Fleischer, Google has committed itself to “anonymising” the search logs on its servers after 18 months — roughly as banks cross out parts of a credit-card number, say. This would mean that search histories cannot be traced to any specific computer. Second, Google says that the bits of software called cookies, which store individual preferences on users’ own computers, will expire every two years. Not everybody is impressed.

“Anonymising” measures still not enough: The server logs will still exist for 18 months. And the cookies of active users will be automatically renewed upon expiry. This includes everybody who searches on Google, which in effect means most internet users. Then there is the matter of all that other information, such as email and documents, that users might keep in Google’s cloud. Schmidt points out that such users by definition opt in, since they log in. They can opt out at any time.

The Australian Financial Review, 5/9/2007, p. 61

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