Privacy as Competitive Advantage
turbotodd 100000388Y Visits (2011)
As fate would have it, I bumbled through Grand Central station about 70 minutes prior to the steampipe explosion on Lexington Avenue.
Thank heavens for cocktails with a colleague closer to Times Square.
If I was fortunate to miss the flying steam and wilting asbestos, I was also glad to see a longstanding personal belief vindicated: that in our new digital world, privacy would increasingly evolve into a competitive advantage.
First, there was Ask's introduction of "AskEraser," which allows users of the Ask search engine to erase their search history.
Prior to that, Google's reduction in retained data (from 2038 to 18 months) and its revised cookie expiration (from 2038 to 2 years...something advocates have rightfully pointed out is somewhat anemic: Are you going to stop using Google for two years so your cookie can expire just to have another one set? But hey, they're trying.)
And then today, MIcrosoft's announcement that it was introducing new policies and technologies to protect the privacy of users of its Live Search services.
Microsoft, along with Ask, have also announced their intent to initiate an industrywide initiative to establish standard practices for retention of users' search histories.
In spirit, I'm all for such initiatives -- the more dialogue about the sensitivity around and commercial exploitation of users' search histories, the better.
But The Wall Street Journal observes that the attempt to spearhead such an initiative "could be in part a reflection of their [Ask and Microsofts'] place in the industry, pointing out that both "lag far behind Google and Yahoo in Internet-search market share and thus have far less data about search behaviors than their rivals."
Such a clarion call for more privacy standards, the Journal suggests, "could indirectly limit Google's ability to use its vast stores of information to improve its services."
That may be so, but if, in the process of establishing some industry-wide standards, users' regain some control of their personal search histories, I would suggest all constituencies involved would be better off.
Privacy and search are a ticking time bomb.
It would likely only take the misused or misappropriated use of one high-profile U.S. politican's personal search information to start this whole thing tumbling into a legislative landslide.
Better to get ahead of the search privacy curve and establish some reasonable and mutually-beneficial rules of the road (which strike a balance between business and user) -- no matter the potentially misguided impetus.