Vast Active Library and Information Science blog. From a recent library science graduate in Wellington, New Zealand. A focus on reference and current awareness tools and issues, especially free, web-based resources.

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Monday, October 04, 2004
Search Engine as Trojan Horse?  
Kirk McElhearn is worried that A9, Amazon's new search engine, holds too much data about users. If you're an Amazon customer, it stores cookies to track your search history, AND ties these to your Amazon account - it therefore knows your name and address, etc.

My first thought was that this was a benefit, not a problem. The more Amazon knows, the more relevant the search results and ads I see will be (I like Gmail for the same reason - I actually get ads that are vaguely related to my interests).

Kirk makes the point that "[this may allow] third parties to [get] access to this information, and use it for nefarious purposes.

Say I do a few searches for single-malt whiskeys, or for information on specific medical conditions I suffer from. And say a hacker gets a hold of this information by breaking into Amazon's servers, or say Amazon sells this information. And say — again, we're just in the realm of hypotheticals here — my employer, or a potential employer, discovers this, and considers me a risk. Or my health insurance company.."

While he's right that this is concievably a risk, I think he's probably overstating things. The fact that I look at a website on medical conditions doesn't mean that I suffer from those conditions - it could be a friend who suffers from that condition, or I could be writing an essay, or anything (in my case it would be work-related). The data mining needed to track down alcoholics or people who are so sick that it would affect their work would surely be too much effort - it'd be easier to identify them by their behaviour at work or whatever.

Still, an interesting point, and one that I'd missed in my initial enthusiasm for A9 (it's a nice little search tool).

Link via Phil Bradley's Blog.