With recent data leaks at AOL, governments seeking information from Google on its users, and no simple user privacy solutions available, a standard for empowering user search privacy has finally been proposed. PoundPrivacy.org is spearheading a search privacy revolution with its proposed #privacy standard. Our proposal is that the #privacy flag could be added to the end of searches by users to tell the search engine ‘don’t track this query.’ In response, the search engine should not track the user by IP address or cookie, and the query should not be made public in keyword tools.
This is silly on a number of levels:
- It propagates the simplistic “opt-in/opt-out” thinking that the US marketing industry has been promulgating for decades. Look where that thinking has taken us.
- It defaults all queries to opt-in, implied by absence of an opt-out. Privacy should be a default, and the “right” way to implement this would be with #trackthis.
- It will be prone to user error (typos) and forgetting. It offers no way to say, set a privacy cookie. Even Doubleclick does that.
- Implementation is left as an exercise for the search engines, who are supposed to both magically not track your queries, and magically track them if you might be violating a law. (I say magically because I have some understanding of how web logs actually work.)
- For some remarkable reason, no search engine has actually bothered to comment on the proposal. Certainly, no one has accepted it yet. So why am I blogging about it?
- Really, this idea is one level above an idea I had at the pub last night. Unfortunately, as it turns out, goats are expensive, and probably won’t walk on treadmills. It’s a good thing I sobered up before setting up a web site.