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Google’s Figured Out Better Ways to Know About You

Things are heating up world-wide when it comes to Google, privacy and competitiveness, so it’s no surprise that the rhetoric delivered to Google critics has gotten harsher. These days if you say things questioning Google someone will call you a conspiracy theorist, and someone will call you out on “negativity” or otherwise make a move to distract from the real issue. The One Big Real Issue is that Google is the most powerful commercial entity ever known to mankind. If you doubt that statement, I suggest you look at the available power Google has garnered and try and come up with any other entity (government or institutional) with more potential power. Please limit your discovery to the planet Earth and non-fiction. Feel free to go way back, but I don’t consider the Holy Roman Catholic Church to be a commercial entity in this context (yes I know, I know).

With power comes opportunity to exploit that power. That’s what I look at, and not because I think I can “fight” something like the whole world adopting the Internet and giving Google massive commercial power.. don’t be silly. I just find it interesting. I really, really do.

When Google announced yesterday that they were voluntarily reducing the length of time they keep non-anonymized data from 18 months to 9 months, calling it “Another step to protect user privacy“, I hopped on over for a quick read of the announcement. Sure enough, down around paragraph 5, line 4 on my screen, I got the information I sought. Google can reduce the length of time they keep the IP data because — are you ready — they figured out a way to still know enough of what they want to know, without saving the non-anonymized IP data:

After months of work our engineers developed methods for preserving more of the data’s utility while also anonymizing IP addresses sooner. We haven’t sorted out all of the implementation details, and we may not be able to use precisely the same methods for anonymizing as we do after 18 months, but we are committed to making it work.

That’s no suprise to me. Google has partnered with the biggest and most aggressive information management companies in the world (including NASA and Acxiom, for example) in the past. If anyone knows or can learn and master information pairing, that someone is Google (information pairing is the process of putting data sets together to figure stuff out that didn’t exist in either set. It has other names). Remember Google owns Doubleclick now.
Apparently Google has proven internally that it doesn’t need that raw log (IP) data as much as it used to think, because it has figured out good enough use-based data reduction techniques, and redefined the term anonymized along the way.

That IP data is not as valuable to them as they thought. It’s not worth keeping the raw data 18 months now, especially as the costs keep increasing (in the face of the EU privacy complaints, for example). They note that the new definition of “anonymized” they will use for the 9 month data is not as strong as the previous definition they use for “anonymized” data saved after 18 months. Yeah, I know. The Evil is in the Details. They continue to ask us for a lot of trust in those details.

Nothing amazing in this announcement, just not a simple “wow they gave in and granted us more privacy” like some are suggesting.

If you’re about to comment that I’m a conspiracy theorist, or trying desperately to make another Google good deed look evil, please have a cigarette or take a walk or something. This blog is not for you.


  1. Jamie wrote:

    more potential power? no such agency ;)

    Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  2. Lenen wrote:

    I still use Google’s toolbar for checking pagerank, and yes, they monitor every website I visit. It makes me sick they can do anything they want with this information.

    Monday, September 15, 2008 at 7:52 am | Permalink
  3. At some point I decided that what makes me happy is knowing deep down that I am an ethical person. Haven’t always been, but I am today and it’s huge for my self-esteem and just being able to live with myself.

    At what point does sketchy business work done for a greater profit make people unable to live with themselves? Here, it seems like a case of boiling the frog slowly…

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008 at 11:36 pm | Permalink