Google: Trust me's Elinor Mills looks at the underbelly of Google, as well as other sites or platforms that collect billions of user bits.'s Elinor Mills looks at the underbelly of Google, as well as other sites or platforms that collect billions of user bits. With about a 50-percent share of Web searches going through Google, as well millions of e-mail messages and personal data, Google knows what you do. The article extensively quotes Chris Hoofnagle of the Electronic Privacy Information Center about the privacy concerns. The company's privacy policy is somewhat vague on precisely what it does with user data, such as defining a "trusted" party who might process Google data and how Google polices them. Certainly Google knows it has a huge responsiblity and doesn't want to earn the emnity of users or the rath of legal systems, but according to Mills' article, Google executives aren't willing to say specifically how user data is protected against unauthorized access or use. Perhaps the company is worried about giving malicious hackers or employees too much detail, but as a user you would like to know what measures are taken to ensure the safety of your data beyond "we take appropriate security measures to protect against unauthorized access to or unauthorized alteration, disclosure or destruction of data." Google of course is not alone. Every Web site that collects data, uses cookies, including ZDNet (CNET Networks), needs to be as transparent as possible about how user privacy is protected. More sophisticated users know how to be anonymous on the Web, but the vast majority are at the mercy of the sites they visit. There is also the issue of does the user have any right to the data collected by the sites they visit, or is it merely the currency exchanged for being able to use free services, such as Web search and e-mail. As Steve Gillmor said in a blog posting:

...if attention as an idea is now part of the public domain, isn't its product also worth the same care? I see no reason why Google, or Microsoft, or Yahoo!, or Skype, or any hive mind just now being born doesn't have the right to mine the data they collect for their own economic purposes. But shouldn't that metadata, the gestures that we render as information flows through us, be recoverable, and if so, why can't it be mined by the user (or users) as an economic force just like the publicly-traded or private company? We are in the age of empowerment, where the power of the Church, of the emperor, of the nation state, of the town crier, of the fourth estate, of the talking box we call radio, is now equally in the hands of the individual.

[Updated 2:18 PST 7/14/05]