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Google - doing evil?

So, I confess my dirty librarian secret: I really like Google. I know I'm meant to be an expert online, using the most appropriate search engine for whatever information I'm looking for (I keep meaning to try to use Sputtr for that too, even though the name sounds like it's an asthmatic with a cold, but never quite remember), but... Google works so WELL!
And it allows you to personalise it with iGoogle, and narrow searches to UK only, and that's lovely!

But, I do worry about what they do with my data. After all, to personalise to iGoogle, you must be logged in. Which means every search you do is logged against your user name / ID, and whatever other information about yourself you've given them. Even if you've not said where you live, your searches are likely to do that. Been on holiday recently? Researched that on Google when logged in? That data's been recorded too. Looked for recipes? Childcare tips? Been looking for a new job? Snap. Although it may be anonymised, that data can still identify you individually, as AOL found out to their cost when they released some 'anonymised' data a while back, and subsequently some users were identified from that data, prompting the usual threats of lawsuits.

Currently, Google log search query details, the IP address of the searcher, and install a cookie (on the machines of those that don't block them) with a validity of 30 years to recognise returning visitors. And they're currently debating with Europe about the time length they hold that data for. I don't like that sort of information being held for any longer than is absolutely necessary. Previously, Goggle held it as long as they saw necessary. Now, they're pledging to anonymise it after 18-24 months. But why so long? Honestly, just how much use is information on a web search after 2 years? I'm very protective of my data online: if forced to register to use a site, I like to play around - initial letters only if asked for a first and last name, make up an age, and sometimes I change gender. After all, I never signed a usage agreement with the Magical Interweb saying I'd always be truthful about my personal details, did I? What information I give up, and to who, is my choice, usually after a check of their data protection and retention policy.

Now, it's true, I could opt not to not to use Google if I'm searching, but surely that defeats the purpose of selecting and using the best tool for the job. I'm not going to use a brushpan and shovel to clean my carpets when I have a Dyson, and nor am I going to use a lesser search engine when Google is constantly tweaking its already very successful algorithms to improve their product every day. I know their recent black ranking by Privacy International is a result of their many products, and the sharing of data between them. They're probably not deliberately doing evil, but they're perhaps beginning to allow a little bit of badness to seep in at the edges...

You know what's even more fun?
Google's now got a log of all the searches I just did for this blog post...

Comments

daniel said…
Hi Jennie

Interesting take on Google. I think the backlash is gathering momentum now.

I am writing on behalf of http://www.192.com

I am researching if legal librarians use 192.com to find people or companies, for example. I would be interested in your feedback on the site and how you use it? Please let me know if you have a moment. Cheers Daniel

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