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Unpublished Paper
What Google Knows: Privacy and Internet Search Engines
ExpressO (2008)
  • Omer Tene
Search engines are the dominant actors on the Internet today and Google is undoubtedly, the undisputed king of search, evoking ambivalent feelings. It is adored for its ingenuity, simple, modest-looking interface, and superb services offered at no (evident) cost. Yet increasingly, it is feared by privacy advocates who view it as a private sector "big brother," posing what one commentator dubbed “the most difficult privacy problem in all of human history.” Google is an informational gatekeeper, harboring previously unimaginable riches of personal data. Billions of search queries stream across Google servers each month, the aggregate thoughtstream of humankind online. Google compiles individual search query logs, containing information about each user’s fears and expectations, interests and passions, and ripe with information that is financial, medical, sexual, political, in short, personal in nature. The article begins with a technical and business analysis of search query logs. It utilizes Daniel Solove's taxonomy of privacy to analyze potential privacy harms inflicted by search engines discussing a range of responses to the search engine privacy problem, including technological, contractual, constitutional, statutory, and common law, emphasizing shortcomings of existing approaches and proposing solutions thereto. It advocates application of the breach of confidentiality tort to protect search users’ privacy without impairing the ability of search engines to make use of the data collected.
  • privacy,
  • data protection,
  • online,
  • Internet,
  • Google,
  • search engines,
  • technology,
  • data retention,
  • EU law,
  • 4th Amendment,
  • ECPA
Publication Date
February 22, 2008
Citation Information
Omer Tene. "What Google Knows: Privacy and Internet Search Engines" ExpressO (2008)
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