Posts Tagged ‘Search Engines’

In The Mix…predicting the future; releasing healthcare claims; and $1.5 millions awarded to data privacy

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Some people out there think they can predict the future by scraping content off the web. Does it work simply because web 2.0 technologies are great at creating echo chambers? Is this just another way of amplifying that echo chamber and generating yet more self-fulfilling trend prophecies? See the Future with a Search (MIT Technology Review)

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management wants to create a huge database that contains healthcare claims of millions of. Many are concerned for how the data will be protected and used. More federal health database details coming following privacy alarm (Computer World)

Researchers at Purdue were awarded $1.5 million to investigate how well current techniques for anonymizing data are working and whether there’s a need for better methods. It would be interesting to know what they think of differential privacy. They  appear to be actually doing the dirty work of figuring out whether theoretical re-identification is more than just a theory. National Science Foundation Funds Purdue Data-Anonymization Project (Threat Post)

Cuil: Is zero data collection the answer?

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Cuil, the new search engine, launched with much fanfare this past week. It’s been blogged about all over the place already, so I’m not going to analyze how its results compare to Google’s. I’m more curious about its privacy policy, which trumpets that it collects NOTHING, nada, zip, zilch.

I found it sort of funny that the other big news in search engines recently was Google’s announcement that it was launching an updated version of Google Trends called Google Insights for Search. While one search engine bragged about its lack of data collection, the other was showing it off.

The two news items together highlight the problem at the heart of our ongoing search for more privacy online. Despite all the handwringing over online data collection, especially by big search engines, people love seeing the data that gets collected, even when they’re not advertisers. We want to see how often we’re mentioned in Twitter, or what parts of the world are searching for topics we blog about. It’s not hard to imagine more serious research and analysis being applied to this data and real social good coming out of it.

I’ve never found very compelling the National Rifle Association’s argument, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” But I find myself wanting to say something similar about data collection: “Data collection doesn’t violate privacy; irresponsible people and laws violate privacy.” Shutting down data collection altogether can’t be the answer.

What exactly is Google up to?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Even as Google has become the most coveted place to work, to the extent that even their cafeteria gets media coverage, it’s also getting increasingly negative attention as a potentially sinister force. The New Yorker recently published an article with rather vague speculation at the way Google might take over the world. Now, we hear that Microsoft is trying to buy Yahoo so they can together fight Google. (Isn’t it funny that Microsoft is seeing another company as the big, bad world-dominator?) More and more, people are starting to wonder, “What exactly is Google up to?”

But given that we can’t read the minds of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, perhaps what we should be looking at is the conflict-of-interest inherent in Google’s business model. Google’s stated mission as a company is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. But are Google’s customers really the individuals searching for information, or are they the advertisers who actually increase Google’s revenues and stock value? To be fair, Google makes a respectable effort to separate advertising from “legitimate,” as in “non-jerry-rigged” search results. But after ten years, the Google search experience is pretty much the same as it’s always been. Has Google been working really hard on tools to help people find better information faster, or has it been working really hard on tools to help advertisers better target potential customers?

Google doesn’t have to be evil to be troubling. It may have started out with the purest of intentions, but it’s hampered itself with the conflict-of-interest at the heart of its operations. Law professor Tim Wu, as quoted in the New Yorker, said it straight, “I predict that Google will end up at war with itself.”

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