Google for Privacy Conscious Users

Google for Privacy Conscious Users

Google was the first search engine to use a cookie that expires in 2038. Immortal cookies are now commonplace among search engines. These cookies place a unique ID number on the users computer. Anytime a user lands on a Google page, a Google cookie is given if it does not already exist. If it exists, Google reads and records the unique ID number.

Sites like google or any other search engine, which users visit at least once a day have large amounts of data about all their users. Google, which is the starting page for most of our queries, can keep tabs on all our search words. Google news even keeps track of the links we click on. The current privacy policy of google states, “Please be aware, however, that we will release specific personal information about you if required to do so in order to comply with any valid legal process such as a search warrant, subpoena, statute, or court order”.

The "Google as a Big Brother" article at google-watch.org gives a detailed overview of the dangers with google’s privacy policy. If a user decides not to use cookies, google does not give access to all its features, even when some of the features can be provided. For example, if a user disables cookies on the browser and visits google’s preferences page, a blunt warning sign saying,

Your cookies seem to be disabled. You can bookmark the next page or enable cookies in your browser to set custom preferences.

Google says it won’t give access to the preferences feature unless the cookies are enabled. That is not what the user wants. The reason why this page came up in the first place is because the user doesn’t’t want google to store personal information. What the user expects is an alternate way to store preferences with out storing a cookie. Google can provide custom preferences by giving the user a page to bookmark, with all the preferences included in the URL. For example the URL,
http://www.google.com/webhp?num=30&hl=fr&lr=lang_en%7Clang_fi%7Clang_fr&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&newwindow=1&safe=off&output=search

searches for pages with these properties:

  • Interface language = French
  • Pages written in = English, Finnish & French
  • Safe search filtering = No filter
  • Number of results = 30
  • Results window = Open another window

If the cookies are disabled, google should give the user the option of getting the above URL on the preferences page if cookies are disabled. Google can say,

Your cookies seem to be disabled. You can bookmark the next page or enable cookies in your browser to set custom preferences.

The next page can be book marked by the user and have preferences set without storing cookies. This small change in the user interface will make the life of privacy conscious users easier.

Other search engines:
Yahoo search has a similar cookie detection feature that says you cannot set preferences unless cookies are enabled.

Yahoo, enable your cookies

Alltheweb also has a similar cookie detection feature that says you cannot set preferences unless cookies are enabled.

Alltheweb cookies disabled

MSN does not’t check if the cookies are enabled or not, but has a line which says cookies must be enabled

.MSN cookies disabled

Altavista, Hotbot
and Teoma don’t even check if the cookies are disabled or not.

Access to information should be free for all and not linked to giving personal information. In 2000, it was discovered that the White House drug policy office used the technology to track computer users viewing its online anti-drug advertising. The government then setup rules which ban the use of persistent cookies on federal web sites, which track Web habits over years.

On the other hand, google’s cookie expires in 2038 and tracks the cookie ID, IP address, the time and date, search terms, and browser configuration. Google has to leave its arm twisting strategy of making everyone enable cookies and embrace the policy of giving what the users want. In order to give a majority of the users the best experience, google does not’t have to spoil the experiences of privacy conscious users. This small change can make everybody happy.

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