So who’s your first answer, that you spit out by instinct, to who your most trusted friend is? Sort through your mind, and think of whom you confide in most often with your deepest secrets. Your spouse, your priest, your psychologist, your childhood friend, your pet dog? All great answers, but dig deeper!
If you really think about it, you’ll be surprised that the one you most often turn to with your secrets is no other than your search engine! Think about it, let’s say Google, for example, receives about 2 billion searches a day, receiving your search queries for things like:
alcoholics anonymous, birth control, career negotiation, debt control, dating advice, divorce lawyers, homemade bombs, how to lose weight, medical symptoms, signs your spouse is having an affair, sexual activities, psychiatric treatment, paranormal activity, software hacks (i.e. jail break iPhone), dream interpretation, how to pass a drug test, political or religious beliefs, racial or ethnic origins, resume templates, terrorist organizations, making money schemes, etc.
We repeatedly turn to Google and share things with it that we wouldn’t dare to with any other human being.
Do you know how much Google charges to use their search engine service? You might say nothing, which is right in monetary terms, but is not entirely true. What we’re trading off in return for Google’s services is our privacy.
Google keeps every search query that is typed in their box, FOR EVER!
What does Google record about us?
Incredible personal and intimate data about you is kept without you even realizing it. The question is whether that data is identifiable to you and if there’s the chance that it can be used or abused at any point in the future against you.
Google says it keeps the data to help advertisers with behavioral targeting. If you’re logged in to Google or if you’re using your browser’s HTTP cookies, then your search data is most likely being saved and stored in Google’s enormous databases.
Google eventually anonymizes the data:
After 9 months, the last octet of the IP address is wiped clean, which means there are 256 possibilities for the IP address in question.
After 18 months, Google anonymizes the unique cookie data stored in their logs and stores the data in its archives.
But this data could still be traced to individual users.
This is what happened when AOL released search data on 685,000 search users in August 2007. The data was anonymized but it was easy for reporters to find the users from clues in their searches, such as zip codes and town names.
Time For Better Privacy Policies?
Certainly! But with that in mind, we should consider that all the other search engines follow the same behavior as Google and that there are agencies that possess the sole function of ensuring our privacy is kept private.
Next time that you turn to the search box, be aware that your searches are not transparent!
*Photo “If it’s on the Internet, it isn’t private.” courtesy of Flick user, DonkeyHotey under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License