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Problems of Personalization  (View post)

Michael Zimmer [PersonRank 1]

Thursday, March 24, 2005
17 years ago

"The problems run deeper (and I will avoid the problem of privacy, because who knows – we might be walking into a future where people give up privacy to gain the most from web sites"

This omission is irresponsible. Privacy is a fundamental concern with web searches in general, and specifically with personalized search. The ability for a search company to efficiently track and record my search habits and tie them directly to my identity has deep privacy implications.

Further, its wrong to discard such privacy concerns when discussing personalized search on the basis that perhaps some people are willing to give up some privacy in order to efficiently search the web. That is exactly what is at issue, and needs to be discussed. It certainly is possible that some will make that decision (trading the value of privacy for the value of efficiency), but we will not be fully prepared to make such decisions without a public debate

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

17 years ago #

Thanks for reminding me. I might discuss privacy of search in a future post.

My point here was that while privacy is often the number 1 discussion (the Google cookie! Gmail reads your mails!) people then tend to ignore the risks because they gain so much. For example, many people chose to live with the privacy issues any free web mailer imposes, because they simply like to have a free web mailer available so much. I use Gmail fully knowing that anyone at the Google Gmail team could read my mails, if only they wanted to.

In the end, isn't it everyone's choice to give up certain privacy, if they are aware of what they're giving up? I absolutey agree we should make transparent the privacy issues. I do not necessarily agree giving up certain aspects of privacy might not be worth it.

In the end, I think the biggest protection against privacy risks is two-fold: first, there's too much information out there for anyone to actually go through it (remember when people in newsgroups started to put certain keywords like "terror" or "bomb" in their mails?), and second, people don't care so much about you (there's simply no money in figuring out whether or not John cheats on his wife).

OK, and then there's the strategy of not having any secrets in the first place, and always thinking two moves ahead... but I agree it's somewhat drastic.

Michael, maybe you can answer: what kind of concrete privacy issues would you have with, say, a personalized Google? And would that be because they might share their information, or would you think there'd already be a problem if only Google knows?

Michael Zimmer [PersonRank 1]

17 years ago #

" In the end, isn’t it everyone’s choice to give up certain privacy, if they are aware of what they’re giving up?"

That's a very big IF. Awareness is a key problem with privacy of personal information. Think of how few people even heard of ChoicePoint, let alone realize how much personal information they aggregate from various sources, both public and private.

"there’s too much information out there for anyone to actually go through it"

That logic no longer holds as information technology becomes more and more sophisticated. First, our personal information is becoming digitized: our purchase habits, our video & library rentals, doctors visits, toll booth payments, etc are now computerized. That increases the ease of collection, storage, and analysis. Coupled with this is the increased processing power and sophistication of computers and data-mining tools, easing the ability to process and analyze these mountains of data to find patters, create profiles, and even piece together separate bits of information in order to complete a "picture" of my typical day.

"what kind of concrete privacy issues would you have with, say, a personalized Google?"

Numerous issues come to mind: how do they track my search terms and links I click on? how is this information matched with my Gmail, Calendar and other (future) Google services? do they sell this data to marketers? to ChoicePoint? to private investigators? what legal constraints exist to prevent law enforcement from getting this data? do they need a warrant? a supeona?

These questions remain not only unanswered, but not properly explored. One suggestion for further reading is Daniel Solove's "The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age"

I'm not saying that personalized search will be necessarily harmful in terms of the privacy of personal information. And perhaps users will choose to decrease privacy in order to increase efficiency or some other value. But these issues need to be critically examined in the public sphere.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

17 years ago #

You say this questions remains unanswered:
"do they sell this data to marketers?"

But it does get answered. Google says:
"We do not rent or sell your personally identifying information to other companies or individuals, unless we have your consent."

An interesting exception in their privacy policy though:
"We provide such information to trusted businesses or persons for the sole purpose of processing personally identifying information on our behalf. When this is done, it is subject to agreements that oblige those parties to process such information only on our instructions and in compliance with this Privacy Policy and appropriate confidentiality and security measures."

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