<< by on July 16th, 2007
Ever since a New York times article from about a year ago used a bunch of search data released by AOL to show that you could identify a person based on their searches, a lot of talk has been made about what this means to the search world? Honestly, it remains to be seen for the most part. Last week I wrote about a new program from Yahoo that will serve ads based on demographic info from their users, but how far off are we from ads directed to us personally? Could we see an ad that says “Bartley – click here to read about UVA football” one day?
Each of the big three search engines do keep track of the searches we make and the IP addresses associated with them. Each of them keeps it for a different amount of time, but this is still a little bit scary as far as I am concerned. In Google’s tradition of “Don’t Be Evil” they recently announced that they will make the records anonymous after 18 months by deleting a part of the IP address. AOL only keeps it records for one month, but Yahoo! and MSN are very hush-hush on what exactly they do with these records.
Still though, even with Google anonoymizing the data, would it still be possible for your searches to come back to you like the woman in the Times article? I would have to think so. For the majority of us, it’s probably not a big deal. In an effort to gain access to even more data from their users, both Google and Yahoo! have created tools to help you track your movement on the web. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would need this, but I can kind of see its usefulness. They both offer programs that will show you everywhere you have been on the web. So if you forget that blog you read last week, you can look through your records and find it. Sounds pretty cool right? I guess, but rather than just an IP address you have now given the engines a name, email and who knows what else associated with your searching behavior. I don’t know – just doesn’t seem right.
But if you are not scouring the web for unprescribed pharmaceuticals or God know’s what other kinds of illegal things you can find out there, than feel free to give them a spin. Google’s tool is called Web History and Yahoo!’s is called MyWeb. Have fun, but remember that Big Brother may be watching you.