Monday, June 18, 2007

Google Pushing the Bounds of Privacy?

To many literate web aficionados the presumption of privacy as it refers to ones everyday interaction with the web is an anachronism of another age. Reuters takes a look at what Google is doing with web search and doesn't answer many questions but certainly poses some.
Unified Search offers no information not already available on Google, but by putting it all in one place, it is turning up sometimes disconcerting links between previously unconnected types of data. And Google is testing various forms of personalized Web search, including Web History, a feature that allows individual users to look back at a chronological history of their search activity over several years. Users learn what predictable creatures they are -- what good and bad habits they have -- when their entire Web search record is revealed, stretching back days, months, even years. By offering a digital record of users' daily interests, Google is giving those who choose the service an unprecedented level of insight into their own thinking. Computers have begun to play the confessional role once reserved for the local priest, or psychotherapist.
If I needed a shrink, I am pretty sure he/she would not be my computer.

The article goes on to review the push Google is making to re-write the rules of privacy in a legal sense.
Google has responded by calling for comprehensive legislation to harmonize laws of various governments, all of which want their say over the World Wide Web. Self-regulation by the Internet industry has not worked, the company says. "Patchwork regulation is confusing for consumers because they don't know which privacy regulations should apply in different situations," Google attorney Wong says of U.S. privacy laws.
Of course it is a little disingenuous for Wong to speak-up for us consumers when what they proselytize has a material impact on their business model. Nevertheless there is probably a grain/stone of truth to the comment.

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