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Privacy and Search

MSN Search Weblog: “Let me start with this core principle statement: privacy of our customers is non-negotiable and something worth fighting to protect.”

In reading this post, I’m confident that Microsoft responded in the right way. Here are the facts (as I understand them) based on various media reports:

  1. The request from the Justice Department does not request any personal information from customers nor the IP addresses from which searches originated.
  2. The goal of the request is to prove that certain data is being searched for and to make some estimates on the frequency of the occurrence of certain search terms.
  3. None of the data can effectively be used to pursue criminal investigations and prosecutions. The data is incomplete at best, and no one would be able to prove the origin of the search requests even if they were criminal in nature. Even if the search data contains personal information, it is highly unlikely that any of this information could be used in an inapprorpiate manner.
  4. We’re talking about protecting children from pornographers and predators. This should outweigh some non-specific concerns about personal liberties.

I think that reasonable people can disagree about this issue, but I’m surprised that Google is taking the stance they’ve taken. I’ve heard the slippery slope arguments, but I don’t find them to be too compelling in this case. Either way, I’m sure that Google will be compelled to comply (at least partially) in the end. If they don’t, hopefully the use of the Yahoo and MSN data proves to be useful on its own. As the MSN Search General Manager has stated, Microsoft is trying to strike the right balance on a sensitive issue.

In the interest of being thorough here, these are my opinions and don’t represent those of Microsoft.

UPDATE- Between Lawyers has posted on this as well. I would expect to see some interesting (and informed) commentary there.

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