The New York Times has an interesting story on search engines and privacy.
Google has released its map of the national brain and appetites for 2008, and it turns out that many, many people across America have been asking the Internet “what is love?” and “how to kiss.”
And to tighten the focus, Google has also provided a list of search queries made by people sitting at computers in New York City. […]
On the surface, these kinds of lists are supposed to reveal what Google calls the zeitgeist of 2008, though it’s not much of a surprise that people were interested in Sarah Palin and Barack Obama. But they also provide hints of the level of personal details that people are now turning over to search engines and related businesses without much awareness.
The lists, said Lt. Col. Greg Conti, a professor of computer science at West Point, “are just major tsunami-type activities, big waves in the online searches.”
Professor Conti, the author of “Googling Security: How Much Does Google Know About You?” (Addison-Wesley, 2008), contends that Google’s internal tools make it possible to develop detailed pictures of individual interests, not just of masses of teenagers looking for the very latest about Miley Cyrus.
“A complete picture of us as individuals and as companies emerges — political leanings, medical conditions, business acquisitions signaled by job searches,” he said. “It would be very scary if we could play back every search we made. Those can be tied back very precisely to an individual. You can go all the way from individual molecules of water up to the tsunami.”