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  • Writer's picturetamera

Search, social networking and privacy issues

Recent news has MySpace looking to outsource its search advertising capabilities to Google, Yahoo!, or MSN. This deal would be a complete coup for whichever company inks it with News Corp.

We will redesign the pages to make search more prominent. We will auction off our search business to Google, Yahoo, or MSN.

The data contained within MySpace profiles and content, which these engines index, combined with additional harvesting of search information trends by MySpace user would be a powerful addition to any of those companies search engines. It could also open a wide range of possibilities for marketing use. However, there is also the possibility for abuse of personal information. This poses an interesting question, is search and data mining the new email of privacy concerns? By a factor of at least 10 the engines have more overall data about consumers. Information like: what we search for, when, from where, who we know, etc. Combine that with webmail, calendars, RSS feeds, blogs, etc., and in Microsoft's case, product registration data and it's staggering how much they know about us.

Will consumers start to cry foul? Considering the recent news that the Pentagon is expanding its data mining capabilities into social networking sites such as Friendster and MySpace, and will continue to harvest and compile data on people across the web, it may be only a matter of time before this issue takes centre stage in the electronic privacy battle and gains mainstream prominence. Combined with the Net Neutrality debate burning up the Internet and in the halls of Congress, this is an issue that we should all be paying attention to.

New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon’s National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks. And it could harness advances in internet technology – specifically the forthcoming “semantic web” championed by the web standards organisation W3C – to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals.

In an interesting move yesterday, Google released a statement championing Net Neutrality and urging action by web users to protect equal access to the Internet. I think Google could stand to gain a lot by continuing to champion the issue of neutrality and privacy issues, while continuing to lead the way in organizing the world's information‚ which as a mission is itself fraught with potential pitfalls or missteps in terms of privacy, anonymity, etc. Not only would this be a good PR move, but it would also be in their best interests to help set the standards for data collection, mining and privacy online in the long term from a purely business and brand perspective.

I do trust, for the most part, Google, Yahoo! and MSFT, my ISP, etc. to do the right thing in relation to the abundance of data they have on us, but it may be time for an industry wide push to set specific standards for protection and usage now before a potential consumer backlash hits.

On another search related note, eBay is getting into the search advertising business which is a move that makes complete sense for them as they continue to leverage the massive community they've built and the profitability of affiliate programs.

ONLINE AUCTIONS GIANT EBAY SAYS it will launch a keyword advertising system called eBay Ad Context for its sellers to promote auctions on other Web sites. The online auctions provider will allow Web site affiliates to run contextual ads for eBay auctions in exchange for a cut of eBay sales.
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