Is it possible to innovate without privacy concerns stepping in the way? Not so far. Some people will trust large companies with their sensitive information and others will continue to be concerned about the use of their data. The privacy issue is going to become even more central as the next generation search engine s search the Internet, your desktop, and maybe even you.
Search engines like Google have been adding capabilities that attempt to make the search experience more personalized, and convenient for users, by recording your previous searches and tweaking the results based on your history. They will increasingly rely on personal information to improve the overall search experience. If the privacy and security issues are overcome, which is dubious at this point unless you think that banks are safe and secure, the information could eventually contain very sensitive information beyond browsing habits and emails, such as medical records, financial transactions and long term even personal genomes. Google has been working with several scientists to make information on human genes more accessible, according to "The Google Story" by Washington Post's David Vise.
For more basic scenarios, imagine the ability to ask Google "how much did I spend on food last week and on what specific foods?" The search engine shows you a pie chart of last weeks spending with the slice for "food" highlighted and a chart of the specific foods and their ingredients based on RFID tag info. Or, after being prescribed a drug from a doctor, it automatically compares the drug against any other medications you are taking, against your own medical data and external sources to determine if it's safe.
Some of the functionality for the spending scenario is available in Quicken, Microsoft Money or from your online banking provider, but why not mash it up with your search engine -- look at food spending by groups and compare costs of those foods to other sources to see if you are spending your food budget money wisely in terms of costs and health using the infrastructure and search intelligence of a Google.
These usage scenarios illustrate what's in store for us and also the challenge in achieving this level of personalization. I am going to follow up with several posts that examine what the future might look like on the privacy front with regards to the storing of sensitive information, and how Google and other search engine companies may gain the trust of users.
To achieve this level of personalization, they need to take the "trust us" approach and turn it into a "trust yourself" one. In my next post, I will attempt explain how search engine privacy may one day be put into the hands of users.
What do you think about the use of your personal information by Google or others to enhance user experience?