I am resisting adding my opinions to the blizzard of commentary about any of yesterday’s Super Bowl commercials. In fact, this post isn’t even mine – it’s from the Daily Online Examiner. The post is entitled, “Will Google’s Super Bowl ad backfire?” The author is Wendy Davis.
Will Google’s Super Bowl Ad Backfire?
For years consumer advocates have warned that Google poses a threat to Web users’ privacy. Now, Google has provided privacy advocates with new ammunition in the form of a Super Bowl ad.
The spot, Parisian Love, vividly demonstrates just how revealing users’ search histories can be. The 52-second ad consists of a series of 11 searches that tell the story of a man (presumably fictional) who falls in love while studying in Paris, moves abroad and gets married. It begins with a search for “study abroad paris france” and ends with a search for “how to assemble a crib.”
“It’s great that Google used this opportunity to illustrate the importance of search privacy to one of the world’s largest audiences,” writes Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He goes on to call for Google to anonymize the data after no more than six months, as rival Bing just promised to do.
The fact is, people’s search activity reveals a tremendous amount about them — probably more than they realize. And Google saves every last query and the IP address it originated from for at least nine months.
Consumer advocates — and regulators in Europe — have repeatedly pressed Google to shed data within six months at the latest. Of course, even six months is plenty of time to compromise people’s privacy. Consider, when AOL released search data about users, the company only made available around three months’ worth of query logs — yet those logs provided more than enough information time to identify specific users like Thelma Arnold.
Google says it will protect users’ privacy, but advocates warn that the company might have no choice but to reveal information it has compiled. Courts can issue subpoenas; saboteurs potentially can break into servers. Either way, once the raw data about users becomes known, it can be used to create detailed portraits of individual users, as illustrated by Google itself during the Super Bowl.
Given all the worry about privacy today, this will surely be a topic of discussion in e-discovery and other circles.
My Super Bowl-watching friends all liked the ad a lot. Clever. Sweet. We all went “awwww.”