<< by on October 26th, 2010
This morning I read on Search Engine Land that their is a new Class Action Complaint against Google over its sharing of search query data with its advertisers. There are portions of this complaint that are just laughable from the perspective of those in search engine marketing.
The Complaint alleges:
Google has consistently and intentionally designed its services to ensure that user search queries, which often contain highly-sensitive and personally-identifiable information (“PII”), are routinely transferred to marketers, data brokers, and sold and resold to countless other third parties.
The user search queries disclosed to third parties can contain, without limitation, users’ real names, street addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, social security numbers, financial account numbers and more, all of which increases the risk of identity theft. User search queries can also contain highly-personal and sensitive issues, such as confidential medical information, racial or ethnic origins, political or religious beliefs or sexuality, which are often tied to the user’s personal information.
The Search Query Data
The suit is basically about the search query referral data passed to site owners every time a Google searcher clicks on a search result and drives traffic to that web site. It’s my understanding that this referral data is NOT the same data being passed in Google Adwords Search Query Reports.
With that being said, I personally have poured over what have to be millions of lines of data gathered from Adwords search query reports and I have never once seen a search query along the lines of:
I want a Ford Mustang my credit card number is 4647 343 2290 3368 and my Social Security Number is 656-70-4321
My name is Joe Smith I live at 123 Anystreet Drive in Death Valley AZ have had cancer and want health insurance
No one in their right mind is going to do something like that, and Google should NOT be held responsible if they do. The complaint seems to be focusing on what site owners could possibly do with the combination of the search query referral string and the IP address.
The Referral Data Being Passed On
Yes any site owner that gets site referrals from Google is going to get a search query referral string and will be able to put an IP address with that on THEIR web server. It’s not Google that is connecting the dots putting IP addresses with search queries, it’s the site owners. But try going after every site owner in the world (profitable or not).
Google is only providing part of the recipe (the search query data) but it is making Billions every quarter and is the easier target to go after. The reality is you can make fertilizer into a bomb, but that doesn’t mean you go after the fertilizer manufacturer when somebody blows something up with it. The site owners that bother to put the data together are the real culprits if there is anything illegal in this practice. But are the owners of PreparationH.com really going to exploit your privacy for searches that lead you to going to their site?
Let’s face it, if you do a search on that embarrassing itch you have on Google and click on search result you are likely going to a site about treating those embarrassing itches and like your doctor…they have seen it all before. They don’t want to use your personal data to harm you, they just want to sell you some cream. Google isn’t going to rank a site whose goal is to get data about you and your embarrassing itch so they can tell the world about it, Google is going to drive you to a site that will help you learn about your embarrassing itch and find a treatment for it.
For anyone to really exploit this kind of data their would have to be a leak that would show the search queries for a particular IP address, that would show ALL of the search queries that IP address made. There has not been a leak and site owners are only getting the search queries that led to traffic coming to their sites. It’s not like your health insurance provider is going to see all your search traffic on other sites regarding your love for extreme sports and cancel your policy.
Google has never had a “leak” of personally identifiable information, the likes that AOL had a few years ago and my hope is that they are investing some those billions in revenue into securing all of that data.
The ‘Symbiotic Relationship’ With SEOs?
Because Google’s financial success depends on, among other things, the symbiotic relationship it shares with SEOs and the ability for third parties to engage in web analytics, Google has place high priority on revealing individual user search queries to third parties.
Yes, you read that right Google’s success depends on “the symbiotic relationship it shares with SEOs“. I never knew I was such buddies with Google. But all the negative feedback at SMX East from SEOs about Google’s changes to the Keyword Tool I guess wasn’t factored into that “symbiotic relationship”. They took what was a decent keyword tool for the SEO community, that we used for keywords research and made it a mere shell of what it once was. Only commercial searches that someone is advertising on are pulling up data on the new keyword tool right now. Google doesn’t care about how SEOs want to use that data. That tool is in their mind for Adwords PPC advertising and NOT for SEOs.
There is NOT a symbiotic relationship with SEOs and Google. They tolerate us and we want to dominate them. We need them, but its a little bit adversarial. We are not buddies. An SEO is going to look at a sites analytics and searcher data and figure out what traffic it is NOT getting and set about on a path to getting it. The only thing SEOs need that referrall data for is to show that they are bringing in the traffic and conversions on the keywords we want traffic from.
Google’s financial success depends on it’s advertising revenues, and if natural search listings aren’t as relevant then ad clicks will likely go up. Google keeps pushing Natural Search results down the page and pushing Paid Search Results up. Where is the Symbiosis with SEO in that?
This is Bordering on Frivolous (Come on Man!)
If you want to be a privacy advocate go after web site owner cookies. Google isn’t giving away people’s Social Security Number here. Google needs to keep it’s data more secure than Fort Knox to ensure there is never a leak, but there isn’t anything really damaging to people in what this complaint is alleging in my opinion.