Private Matters

Is how a search engine handles your private data going to soon determine whether or not you use it?

In a recent decision, has told users that it will no longer store data on their queries. This sounds very nice of course, until you get down into the nitty gritty of it and learn that it’s almost meaningless. So basically, for those of you who like to conduct searches on items such as men’s girdles, rare Adam and the Ants singles, and BASIC programming guides, you should still be a little worried that your user data could haunt you at some point (this is excluding how it simply affects you to know what Adam looks like these days.)

Here’s the main problem with this: their partners could potentially still be privvy to this so-called private data. Considering all of the blasting I’ve heard over the years about everyone wanting to get their claws on all of our data, this does actually concern me a bit. Keywords used in an Ask search can still be seen in the web address bar, and your ISP can still get this information. Apparently Ask plans on reviewing this issue with their partners and wants to come to an agreement on how this data can be used. Still, why say you’re not going to keep private data if, in fact, you really are keeping it, even if it’s by passing it onto another party?

Obviously this information can’t really hurt you if it’s not being kept. However, the promises of purging it and no longer retaining it seem way too good to be true. Obviously I am not too embarrassed to be searching for Adam and the Ants singles, although I will acknowledge that I SHOULD be, but I certainly do not want Google knowing that I am also a big fan of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in light of their second album’s being crap. This is extremely humiliating and could potentially wreck me if it came out in court.

Google and MSN will supposedly purge user data after 18 months. Google’s cookies are now going to expire in 2 years, not in 2038 (which is about when the last batch of chocolate chip cookies my mom made will expire…I almost needed dental work.) MSN “apparently” stores its search information so that it can’t be attached to personal information. Yahoo is going to “anonymize” data after 13 months. My head is spinning around like Linda Blair’s did in the Exorcist, and I am not even wearing a nightgown right now so it’s not nearly as funny.

I have never been a private person. Just ask the tons of horrified people who have been witness to me after one glass of red wine. People who constantly complain about their lack of privacy usually have something nasty to hide, like an affection for Celine Dion, but I’m beginning to see their side of things. I’m not beginning to see their affection for Celine, of course, because that is incomprehensible, but I am beginning to understand that, where privacy is concerned, there are some simple principles that we should think about.

We should all be aware that most of what we do online can be recorded in some way. That still won’t stop most of us from calling our boss a horrible troll on Yahoo IM (although I don’t do this), sending Photoshopped photos of our friends done up as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz to everyone we know, or looking for thigh-high latex boots. However, we need to realize that just because we’re sitting behind a screen, we’re not anonymous in the eyes of the search companies or our ISPs.

The real questions: How will you react to this? Will you continue to use Google if it keeps all your information, or will you switch to something like MSN if it turns out that their privacy policy makes you the happiest? Is privacy THAT much of an issue? If it’s not going to haunt you in a legal manner, do you really care? Are you going to search for “Celine Dion in thigh-high latex boots” and hope you get caught so you can get help?

So, some feedback please, if you would…nothing about this issue is black or white. What are your thoughts on this?

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