Government Surveillance and Internet Search Behavior

Alex Marthews

Digital Fourth

Catherine E. Tucker

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Management Science (MS)

April 29, 2015

This paper uses data from eleven countries on the search volume of select keywords from before and after the surveillance revelations of June 2013, to analyze whether Google users' search behavior changed as a result. The surveillance revelations are treated as an exogenous shock in information about how closely users' internet searches were being monitored by the US government. Each search term was independently rated for its degree of privacy sensitivity along multiple dimensions. Using panel data, our results suggest that cross-nationally, users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the US government. In the US, this was the main subset of search terms that were affected. However, internationally there was also a drop in traffic for search terms that were rated as personally sensitive. Our results suggest that there is a chilling effect on search behavior from government surveillance on the Internet, and that government surveillance programs may damage the international competitiveness of US-based internet firms.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 39

Keywords: surveillance, Snowden, prism, chilling effects, international trade

JEL Classification: D12, D78, E65, F14, H56, M38

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Date posted: March 23, 2014 ; Last revised: April 30, 2015

Suggested Citation

Marthews, Alex and Tucker, Catherine E., Government Surveillance and Internet Search Behavior (April 29, 2015). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2412564 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2412564

Contact Information

Alex Marthews (Contact Author)
Digital Fourth ( email )
One Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
Catherine E. Tucker
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Management Science (MS) ( email )
100 Main St
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
HOME PAGE: http://cetucker.scripts.mit.edu
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