Thursday, April 13, 2006

Google Rebuffs Feds On Search Requests

Author: Chris Hoofnagle

Google Inc. is rebuffing the Bush administration's demand for a peek at what millions of people have been looking up on the Internet's leading search engine — a request that underscores the potential for online databases to become tools for government surveillance. Mountain View-based Google has refused to comply with a White House subpoena first issued last summer, prompting U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales this week to ask a federal judge in San Jose for an order to hand over the requested records.

The government wants a list all requests entered into Google's search engine during an unspecified single week — a breakdown that could conceivably span tens of millions of queries. In addition, it seeks 1 million randomly selected Web addresses from various Google databases.
In court papers that the San Jose Mercury News reported on after seeing them Wednesday, the Bush administration depicts the information as vital in its effort to restore online child protection laws that have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp., which operate the next most-used search engines behind Google, confirmed that they had complied with similar government subpoenas. America Online said it didn't fully comply with the subpoena but did provide a list of search requests already publicly available from other sources.

Combined, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN and AOL handle nearly 90 percent of all U.S. search requests, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Although the government says it isn't seeking any data that ties personal information to search requests, the subpoenas still raise serious privacy concerns, experts said. Those worries have been magnified by recent revelations that the White House authorized eavesdropping on civilian communications after the Sept. 11 attacks without obtaining court approval.

"Search engines now play such an important part in our daily lives that many people probably contact Google more often than they do their own mother," said Thomas Burke, a San Francisco attorney who has handled several prominent cases involving privacy issues.
"Just as most people would be upset if the government wanted to know how much you called your mother and what you talked about, they should be upset about this, too."

The content of search request sometimes contain information about the person making the query.

For instance, it's not unusual for search requests to include names, medical profiles or Social Security information, said Pam Dixon, executive director for the World Privacy Forum.
"This is exactly the kind of thing we have been worrying about with search engines for some time," Dixon said. "Google should be commended for fighting this."

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo stressed that it didn't reveal any personal information. "We are rigorous defenders of our users' privacy," Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako said. "In our opinion, this is not a privacy issue."

MSN said it complied with the government's request "in a way that ensured we also protected the privacy of our customers."

As the Internet's dominant search engine, Google has built up a valuable storehouse of information that "makes it a very attractive target for law enforcement," said Chris Hoofnagle, senior counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The Department of Justice argues that Google's cooperation is essential in its effort to simulate how people navigate the Web.

In a separate case in Pennsylvania, the Bush administration is trying to prove that Internet filters don't do an adequate job of preventing children from accessing online pornography and other objectionable destinations.

Obtaining the subpoenaed information from Google "would assist the government in its efforts to understand the behavior of current Web users, (and) to estimate how often Web users encounter harmful-to-minors material in the course of their searches," the Justice Department wrote in a brief filed Wednesday

Google — whose motto when it went public in 2004 was "do no evil" — contends that submitting to the subpoena would represent a betrayal to its users, even if all personal information is stripped from the search terms sought by the government.

"Google's acceding to the request would suggest that it is willing to reveal information about those who use its services. This is not a perception that Google can accept," company attorney Ashok Ramani wrote in a letter included in the government's filing.

Complying with the subpoena also would threaten to expose some of Google's "crown-jewel trade secrets," Ramani wrote. Google is particularly concerned that the information could be used to deduce the size of its index and how many computers it uses to crunch the requests.
"This information would be highly valuable to competitors or miscreants seeking to harm Google's business," Ramani wrote.

Dixon is hoping Google's battle with the government reminds people to be careful how they interact with search engines.

"When you are looking at that blank search box, you should remember that what you fill can come back to haunt you unless you take precautions," she said.

Source AP

Google Patents Voice-Activated Searching

Author: Matt DeAngelis

Now this is cool.

According to, Google has just filed a patent on a voice interface for search engines. Through the use of a language model, phonetic dictionary and acoustic models, a server generates an n-best hypothesis list or word graph.

Though the patent application was in 2001, it was just published this week. Google Voice, which has been up for some time (it is currently down), allows the user to call into Google and tell them your search over the phone. It will then display the results in a new window.

This would be a terrific cell-phone searcher.

About the Author: Matt DeAngelis runs, that is his latest venture, and it was started as a resource to help site owners and bloggers to get more revenues from their sites.

Assure Readability To Your Domain Name

Author: Giovanni Busco

Most of the desirable one-word, two-word and three-word dot com domain names are now taken. However, if you add plurals and hyphenated words, there is still a very good chance to get a productive domain name.

If you want to use a phrase or a compound word with two or more words combined together, you should use hyphens. All of the search engine robots read a hyphen as a blank space, so your domain name is not affected when you use hyphenated words.

Using a long url will annoy publishers and hosts, and will make difficult for the audience to remember your url. If you have a hyphenated url make sure you are clear as to the hyphen being included and don't make the url too long. Example: Your First and Last Name hyphen, is short enough that the hyphen can be easily used, and it will not negatively impact your web traffic.

Using the above example, it is also wise to think that people, while typing, will sometimes reverse the words, like It is now so inexpensive to purchase domain names, that it is wise to purchase both versions, for assuring your targeted traffic.

Another good reason for using hyphenated domain names is when two, or more words, joined together in a domain name could imply or even state a different meaning. The following is an example: www.tennishopping could be read as tennis shopping or tennis hopping, two completely different thoughts and contexts. Please remember to use hyphens in a very intentional way, in order to avoid any confusion, that can potentially decrease your web traffic.

You need to consider also that if your url is without hyphens, it will look more professional. Catching the attention of a web browser could sometimes be a matter of a very fast first impression.

A domain name with hyphens is hard to describe when announced in a radio commercial, or when communicated by word of mouth, but with so many popular domain names not available anymore, sometimes using a hyphenated url is just necessary.

About the Author: Giovanni Busco is a web/business consultant, strongly interested in internet communication and internet marketing .