Google Opens Up On Privacy, Sort Of

The Official Google Blog released a video yesterday in an attempt to be more transparent on issues regarding privacy. I say attempt, because I’m not sure it does enough to allay any fears you might have, but it is only meant as a first step in a process of creating more videos about privacy and as an introduction to the subject it’s nicely done.

Support Engineer, Maile Ohye does a good job clearly explaining what information Google collects when you perform a search.

This isn’t exactly a complicated technical video and I suspect many of you will be somewhat familiar at least with IP addresses and cookies. The main points in the video are that while Google collects your IP address when you perform a search they can’t pinpoint who and exactly where you are and that the cookie they set is meant to track your preferences such as how many results to display in the search results.

Here’s an image of the log Google will put together based on your search

Google Search Log

The video also mentions how after 18 months Google will anonymize a part of the log. They will remove the cookie information and also the ‘D’ block of the IP address as seen in the following image.

Google Search Log Anonymized

What’s a little misleading is that neither of these pieces of information has much to do with your privacy. The preferences in the cookie aren’t meaningful and Google can find out just as much information from the ‘C’ block of the IP as they can from having both the ‘C’ and ‘D’ blocks.

It’s important to note that this video is meant only to explain basic privacy concepts, which it does do well and that Google is planning to release more privacy videos like the information they collect when you register for a Google account or what info they collect when you search while logged into your account. Those are the videos I want to see.

While the information in this video goes only so far, I want to give Google some slack. I think Google gets more flack over privacy issues than they deserve mostly because as the market leader they have the most data and if their proposed purchase of DoubleClick goes through the potential information they’ll have will be staggering. But it should be remembered that when the U.S. government demanded search engines hand over data it was only Google that refused to comply.

Having all that information does make Google a fair target and you only have to remember the debacle with AOL releasing supposedly anonymous search data and the subsequent identification of at least one person within that anonymous data to understand that it’s important to protect the privacy of searchers.

Fair or not Google will take the most heat over privacy concerns as the market leader and I suspect this video and the ones planned are meant to counter the perception that Google isn’t doing enough to protect the privacy of its users. Privacy concerns are becoming one of the battlegrounds for market share in search. Whatever their motivation this video is a step in the right direction towards transparency.

Watch the video and share your thoughts.

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