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April 20, 2007

Google Draws a Complaint to the FTC and a Little 1984 Thrown In

The concern that the Google purchase of DoubleClick will violate consumer privacy rights has generated a formal complaint to the FTC.  The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Center for Digital Democracy (CCD), and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group have filed a document with the agency requesting that the merger be blocked.  Google has said that it does not intend to merge databases from DoubleClick with its own, at least containing personally identifiable information.

Part of the concern is that anonymity is not enough.  When AOL accidentally disclosed anonymous, raw search data, the New York Times was able to identify some consumers.  One can ask, however, if someone types in personally identifiable information in a search engine - name, address, social security number - over a series of searches, what expectation of privacy can you have?  In AOL's case there is some grievance because the company wasn't supposed to disclose the data at all.  Their own researchers could conceivably have figured out who these people were without disclosing anything to the general public. 

If the potential of Google knowing who you are for targeted ads scares pubic interest groups, then the Google Web History will scare all types of extraneous material out of them.  The Google Tool Bar combined with a Google account will cheerfully track your every move on the web and just as cheerfully tell you where you've been.  I've tried it and it goes way back.  But before anyone gets scared about it, you have to be logged in to Google when searching or browsing, and if you use multiple computers, your history will only be available for that machine, not all of them.  I'm basing that on the fact that the searches I've done at home do not show up when I logged into Google at work.  You can also limit the tracking to page view or search history.  For those who have a Google account and the toolbar, you can find out what Google has on you by clicking here.  And as for the public interest groups, Google doesn't need DoubleClick to know where you go.  Nor does Yahoo!, or Microsoft, or any other web service where you have a sustained login while on the web.

April 20, 2007 | Permalink

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