Open Letter to the Big 4 search engines
There are really only two major ethical issues that arise out of search technologies: copyrights and privacy. These issues affect the two communities search engines cater to, the content creators (websites) and the content seekers (users). A number of indexing technologies and standards – robots.txt, nocache, noindex – have been adopted by all major search engines to protect the authorship rights of websites across the internet. Yet, to date, the search engines have not created a standard of privacy for their users.
The only way to guarantee privacy is to not store their sensitive search query data in the first place. #Privacy lets users determine when their search queries are too sensitive to store.
The #privacy standard as offered by www.poundprivacy.org makes it incredibly easy for all search engines – major search engines (and potentially site searches) – to empower their users to protect their own query privacy. The standard is simple: if a user includes #privacy in a search query, the search engine should not associate that IP (or other tracking mechanism such as cookies) with the query, nor should that query be made available via public or private keyword tools such as Google Suggest or Overture Keyword Selection tool.
Right now, users must provide personal information (whether they are aware of it or not) in order to use your search tools. Even the most private searches regarding health issues, domestic abuse, asylum/dissident support, and financial searches are mapped against user history, geolocation, ip addresses, log-ins and sign-ups, referers, click-throughs, and toolbar queries to be stored in massive databases despite great, demonstrable risk to your users. It is time that the search engines create an easy, universal solution to protect the privacy rights of these users.
The search engines have demonstrated an interest in maintaining their ethical behavior with respect to content creators. I simply ask you to do the same for users by adopting the #privacy standard.
Empower your users to protect their search query privacy. It is the right thing to do.