Why Search is the Biggest Online Privacy Risk

AOL made one of the biggest online privacy blunders in the history of the web when they released massive amounts of user search data. Eventually The New York Times linked Thelma Arnold to search number 4417749.

Searcher 17556639 searched for things like how to kill your wife. While privacy is important, should data that could imply a desire to commit crime become public prior to the action? How big of a stretch is pre-crime when people type such queries into a search box?

AOL, Yahoo!, Microsoft and other search services gave data to the US Department of Justice to comply with the Child Online Protection Act, but Google was one of the few companies to hold out.

More recently Google, in an aim to justify their own data retention, claimed the following:

the IP addresses recorded by every website on the planet without additional information should not be considered personal data, because these websites usually cannot identify the human beings behind these number strings.

Using Google’s own words against them in court, Viacom demanded IP addresses and usernames associated with YouTube video views. Google got authorization to anonymize the data, but AOL’s search data was allegedly anonymous too. Worth thinking about before setting up any additional user accounts or typing anything into a search box.

2 Responses to “Why Search is the Biggest Online Privacy Risk”

  1. John Says:

    Google is the only company who held out on that big data grab by the US government, and even they were forced to turn over some search data.

    If a search company vowed not to store user data and worked that into their marketing I bet they could gain some serious marketshare. But who will do it? Not AOL, Yahoo maybe?

  2. Jack Says:

    I doubt the public can count on Yahoo to protect privacy. Yahoo is one of, if not the, world’s worst proliferator of spyware. Back in the day when telephone companies wanted to become ISP’s, they turned to Yahoo, and Yahoo turned them into giant data vacuums gathering every micro-scrap of information possible (and then some) on their very own customers. They still do this today, only with even greater abandon, selling it all to whomever has a buck or two. They also force their own customers to “opt-out” of data-gathering each time they sign onto Yahoo (oh yeah, unless you leave their cookies in place, which does the same thing only differently. You might as well leave your house unlocked each day you go to work). And even finding the opt-out page is major time-waster.

    No, you definitely can not trust Yahoo with your life, let alone your privacy. They’re like the Chinese Communist Party of the Internet, absolutely vacant of morals as long as there is money to be made, any money from any source. One of the great – and most sickening – hypocrisies of our time is Yahoo’s technical help pages, which go to some length pretending to offer assistance on privacy, while they stab you in the back literally as you read the stuff. Reminds me of the Democraps. Hey, maybe that’s why they are so supportive of the Dems and write such liberal pieces posing as “news.” Birds of a Feather, right?

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