Abstract - The Information Society 23(5)

Who Searches the Searchers? Community Privacy in the Age of Monolithic Search Engines 

Jonathan A. Poritz

Privacy has largely been equated with every individual’s right to privacy. Accordingly, current efforts to protect privacy on the Internet have sought anonymity by breaking, where possible, links with Personally Identifiable Information (PII)—all uses of aggregated data stripped of PII are considered legitimate. This paper argues that we need to use a broader concept, General or Group Identifying Information (GII) because even aggregated data stripped of PII violate privacy at the community level. The search engine companies, or anyone else with access to their log files, can use these data to generate a moment-by-moment view of what is on the collective mind. Such a view can be used in a variety of ways, some with deep economic and even political impact. In order to frame this discussion, it is necessary to examine some of the realities of the search engine-mediated associative interface to the World Wide Web. While this interface has enormous benefits for the networked world, it also fundamentally changes a number of issues underlying various current debates about Internet governance.


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