February 20, 2006

Google’s Privacy Argument is Flawed

Posted in Category: Work — Amr Awadallah @ 1:09 pm | link | | comment (0)

I was shocked after seeing that Google on Friday tried to make an argument that releasing a bunch of query strings from its logs (without any personally identifiable information, PII for short) would:

1. undermine public trust in the privacy of Google’s service

2. expose its trade secrets

3. unnecessarily burden Google

what were they thinking ?

This is why I think their arguments are ridiculous:

1. The government is asking for this data to help fight exposing our children to porn, so definitely a good cause and very legitimate reason.

2. The government is only asking for one week of query-strings, they are not asking for IP addresses, for cookies, for zip codes, etc. Its just a bunch of query-strings. Its impossible to tie just a query string back to the person who issued it, even if you were searching for your name, it could have been somebody else searching for you (I am sure the government can give them the option to sanitize out vanity queries, replace them all with George Bush or something like that)

3. The government is also asking for a random 1M sample of the links that Google crawls, now that has nothing to do with privacy what so ever, that’s all public info on the web.

4. How can the query-strings that the user’s enter into Google and the URLs that are publicly available on the web, represent a trade secret ? That would be a trade secret only if Google was generating these things, but they aren’t, the people are. If Google is worried about refinement queries from its spell-correct or also-try feature (if any), then they can filter those out and only leave the organic queries that the users typed in by them selves.

5. Finally, I was really ROFL when I saw their last claim: “unnecessarily burden Google”. He he 😉 we all know that getting either of those 2 pieces information would take one Google engineer a couple of hours using the Sawzall query language and map-reduce.

The message I am getting is: “We Google think its ok for us to use the user queries to make money, but its wrong to let the government use them to help protect our children”.

I predict that Google will lose this fight.

— amr

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