Google Weblog

February 14, 2003: Google's Privacy Problems

Google Watch: Google as Big Brother, a list of his top ten Google Privacy Problems.

My thoughts:

The cookie is a serious issue. Google assigns everyone who visits a cookie that uniquely identifies them to Google for all time. There's very few legitimate reasons to do this, and they certainly don't outweigh the harm done. (Google could easily assign a cookie that only contained your preferences and not a personal identifier.)

Logging is also an issue. Actions by the current US government make it clear they don't care about privacy, and it's very likely that they've convinced Google to hand over full logs of who is searching for what.

I think the bit about hiring spooks is silly, just working at the NSA doesn't ruin you forever.

The toolbar asks in bright bold red letters if you really want Google to phone home about every site you visit. Obviously you should answer no if you like your privacy. Google could probably improve things by letting you press a button to look up the PageRank for a page, rather than always doing it automatically.

I like the cache copy. Putting stuff on the Internet makes it public; get used to it.

I think most people agree the sites penalized by Google deserve it. If you think your site was penalized unfairly, let me know, and I'll spread the word. On the other hand, I think Google should publish their block list and algorithms.

Conclusion: Google needs to stop sending the cookie and promise to only store aggregate data, with no connection between users and search terms. This issue was publically raised almost a year ago; that Google still hasn't dealt with it is inexcusable.

Posted by Aaron Swartz on February 14, 2003 10:46 AM