Privacy concerns over Google-DoubleClick deal

Proposed acquisition prompts this writer to imagine a few scary scenarios. Paranoid? Maybe, but there is a solution.

Maybe I've spent too much time in information security, but Google's proposed acquisition of DoubleClick scares me from a privacy perspective.

I'm not alone here. Microsoft and AT&T are already lobbying the Federal Trade Commission to scrutinize this deal (albeit their concerns go beyond privacy alone). So has the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

For those of you who haven't thought about the privacy implications of this deal, let me offer a brief explanation. Google tracks user search behavior to match ads to prospective buyers. DoubleClick does the same kind of thing to serve up banner ads. Taken together, the companies know an amazing amount about the online habits of you, me and everyone else. This information could be used to try to sell us all kinds of stuff we don't want--or worse.

Of course, Google balks at the notion that it is becoming the "Big Brother" of the Internet. It says it will only merge "nonpersonal identifiable data" from Google and DoubleClick to better target ads. Maybe it will--for now--but I see a few scary scenarios:

• Google gets hacked and some malevolent third party gets access to everything. This doesn't have to involve foreign entities and cloak-and-dagger operations. One shrewd, dirtbag administrator could make this happen.

• Google might not create a combined profile for its own use, but Uncle Sam might demand the data under the guise of national security. Yes, this data may help weed out a terrorist or two, but I guarantee that it will also lead to a few innocent people being investigated.

• Google decides that this data is valuable to others, so it sells access to the likes of Acxiom, ChoicePoint and LexisNexis. These data brokers would then have databases containing consumer financial records, public records, and online behavior.

Yup, I may be paranoid, but I do have a solution to propose. What's needed is a round-robin search bar for Internet Explorer 7. (Note: If someone has already developed this, please contact me.) Every time someone types something into the search bar, it randomly spreads the requests across different search sites. Personal data is spread among competitors who have no intention of sharing.

While I've grown accustomed to Google, I find that the search sites are pretty similar. My search experiences have already moved across Yahoo, Lycos, Excite, AltaVista and Google, so I'll trade off getting used to a few new search sites for protecting my privacy.

I wish Google luck and I understand its business motives, but I'm really uncomfortable with the amount of personal data it already collects, let alone another few hundred terabytes per day. If you feel as I do, I encourage you to join me.

 

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