What Google Knows: Privacy and Internet Search Engines
72 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2007 Last revised: 1 Feb 2014
Date Written: October 1, 2007
Search engines are the most important phenomenon on the Internet today and Google is the gold standard of search. Google evokes ambivalent feelings. It is adored for its ingenuity, simple, modest-looking interface and superb services offered at no (evident) cost. Yet increasingly, it is feared by privacy advocates who view it as a private sector big brother posing perhaps the biggest privacy problem of all times. Google is an informational gatekeeper harboring previously unimaginable riches of personal data. Billions of search queries stream across Google's servers each month, the aggregate thoughtstream of humankind, online. Google compiles individual search logs, containing information about users' fears and expectations, interests and passions, and ripe with information that is financial, medical, sexual, political, in short - personal in nature. How did Google evolve from being a benevolent giant seeking to do no evil into a privacy menace reviled by human rights advocates worldwide? Are the fears of Google's omniscient presence justified or overstated? What personal data should Google be allowed to retain and for how long? What rules should govern access to Google's database? What are the legal protections currently in place and are they sufficient to quell the emerging privacy crisis? These are the main issues addressed in this article.
Keywords: Google, Internet, privacy, data protection, technology, search engines, personal data, EU law, surveillance, monitoring, communications, 4th Amendment
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