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December 01, 2005

Google and Privacy

Daniel Solove on Google and privacy:

A New York Times editorial observes:
At a North Carolina strangulation-murder trial this month, prosecutors announced an unusual piece of evidence: Google searches allegedly done by the defendant that included the words "neck" and "snap." The data were taken from the defendant's computer, prosecutors say. But it might have come directly from Google, which -- unbeknownst to many users -- keeps records of every search on its site, in ways that can be traced back to individuals.

This is an interesting fact -- Google keeps records of every search in a way that can be traceable to individuals. The op-ed goes on to say:

Google has been aggressive about collecting information about its users' activities online. It stores their search data, possibly forever, and puts "cookies" on their computers that make it possible to track those searches in a personally identifiable way -- cookies that do not expire until 2038. Its e-mail system, Gmail, scans the content of e-mail messages so relevant ads can be posted. Google's written privacy policy reserves the right to pool what it learns about users from their searches with what it learns from their e-mail messages, though Google says it won't do so. . . .

The government can gain access to Google's data storehouse simply by presenting a valid warrant or subpoena. . . .

mportant point. No matter what Google's privacy policy says, the fact that it maintains information about people's search activity enables the government to gather that data, often with a mere subpoena, which provides virtually no protection to privacy -- and sometimes without even a subpoena.

Solove goes on to argue that if companies like Google want to collect people's data (even if people are willing to supply it), the least they can do is fight for greater protections against government access to that data. While this won't address all the problems, it would be a step forward to see companies like Google use their power to foster meaningful legislative change.

Posted by dymaxion at December 1, 2005 11:07 PM



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