Tag: aol

Where's the case for data retention?

Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt announced today that he thinks the greatest danger to people’s privacy is not from leaks of people’s data as happened earlier this week to AOL users but rather from government snooping.

I have always worried the query stream is a fertile ground for governments to snoop on the people.

This is a very valid argument and it has to be said that it is definitely in Google’s best economic interest to ensure that no-one can access their massive databases of saved searches. The same cannot be said for Irish ISPs and telcos who are being tasked with keeping three years of log files on all their customers. There is almost no incentive for them to secure this data – it is nothing but a dead cost for them and one they wish would go away. This data will more than likely be leaked and sold time and time again by everyone from crooked Gardaí (the Irish police) to minimum wage call centre employees.

Having said that no lock is uncrackable and if someone wants to get at Google’s databases badly enough, they will find a way. The easiest way to thwart this is not to retain the data!

The myth of privacy

You do know that every search term you type into a search engine is saved by the search engine, don’t you? That time you searched for porn, or an ex boy/girlfriend, or information about an illness you thought you might have – all saved by the search engine.

This practice was brought sharply into focus when AOL purposefully posted 3 months of search data on the Internet. Usernames were replaced with numbers but it was still possible to identify some of the searchers. The New York Times runs a story today about a Ms Thelma Arnold, a 62 year old living in Lilburn, Georgia. Ms Arnold was searcher number 4417749 in AOL’s records but was readily identifiable based on her searches for “numb fingersâ€?, “60 single menâ€?, “dog that urinates on everythingâ€?, “landscapers in Lilburn, Ga,â€? several people with the last name Arnold and “homes sold in shadow lake subdivision gwinnett county georgia.â€?

Marketers are going to have a ball with all this info!

Someone has helpfully taken a copy of the data and put a web interface on it to make it easier to query!

Michael Geist said it best when he said:

The article provides a powerful illustration not only of the severity of the AOL mistake (which remains online for all to see), but of why search companies simply should not be retaining this data for any significant period of time. The public privacy risks, whether self-inflicted, from hackers, or via law enforcement fishing expeditions, outweigh the private commercial benefits.

While Ms Arnold is quoted in the New York times article as saying

My goodness, it’s my whole personal life, I had no idea somebody was looking over my shoulder… We all have a right to privacy, Nobody should have found this all out.

You haven’t searched for anything you wouldn’t want people to know about recently, have you?

Digg must be feeling very flattered!

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – if that is true then Digg must be feeling very flattered right about now!

AOL’s Netscape site is being converted from a portal into a Digg clone! You can see it for yourself at beta.netscape.com for now. It will convert to the main Netscape site soon.

The new Netscape site

The site features the ability to ‘vote’ for stories and a constantly updating, dynamic topbar featuring the most popular stories.

This site already has far more traffic than Digg ever had. As Mike Arrington said:

The fact that AOL is launching the new service under the Netscape brand instead of building out a new property says how serious they are about the space. According to statistics provided by AOL, Netscape serves a whopping 811 million monthly page views – far more than Digg today.

This will now introduce all those users to Digg-like technologies which can only be good for educating users on the possibilities of the live web.

Web 2.0 to suffer from United States Department of Justice request?

I see Xeni Jardin over at Boing Boing has posted an article on how the US Department of Justice have requested a weeks worth of search data from the major US search engines. Seemingly Yahoo, AOL, and MSN simply handed over the data without any question. Google however held out and is now being taken to court by the DoJ for refusing to comply with the order.

Google’s reason for not complying? Well it wasn’t on privacy grounds, nope, Google refused on grounds that the request was too broad and burdensome!

The Department of Justice is playing the monsters under the bed children protection card:

the information it has requested, which includes one million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from a one-week period, is essential to its upcoming defense of the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act

Danny Sullivan over at SearchEngineWatch has a rapidly updating analysis of this story – according to Danny:

a more accurate way for the government to assess how often children might encounter porn through search engines would be to conduct their own research. Indeed, they have. Government Report Says MSN Search Adult Filter Most Effective from the SEW Blog back in June covers this report (PDF format) that the US Government Accountability Office did back in June. From what I can see, it measured how often children might encounter porn through image search. To do the assessment, no subpoenas were required.

What was interesting for me was how the other search engines caved and handed over the data. I was interviewing Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo! the other night for a Podleaders.com podcast and, in the context of Yahoo! having previously provided information to the Chinese Government which resulted in a Chinese journalist being jailed for 10 years, I specifically asked him:

If this had happened in the US would Yahoo! have fought the government request in the courts?

Bradley’s response was interesting – he said:

We are bound to abide by the laws of any country in which we do business… so under a court order or a subpoena we would hand it over

In this case however, as far as I know, there was no court order or subpoena – simply a request from the Department of Justice. In fairness to Bradley he makes it clear that he is not a policy officer of Yahoo! and Yahoo! are not the only search engine which complied with the request.

However, you have to think that this request is only setting a precedent for far more reaching and specific requests to come in the future. What will this do to Web 2.0 and people’s willingnes to host their data on other companies servers, I wonder?

I see Damien Mulley has posted on this as well.

UPDATE:
John Battelle has published another post on this subject showing that the Department of Justice’s motives are far darker than previously suspected – specifically:

From the motion the DOJ filed to force Google to comply with the subpoena:

“The subpoena asks Google to produce an electronic file containing ‘[a]ll URL’s that rea available to be located through a query on your company’s search engine as of July 31 2005.”

and

“all queries that have been entered on your company’ search engine between June 1, 2005 and July 31, 2005.”

God alone knows why they would want all that data from Google (and presumably the other search engines as well) – but we know it has nothing to do with seeing if children can access porn.

As John said:

No way in hell Google would give that up, given the company’s penchant for secrecy. Sure, the DOJ might guarantee that the data would not enter the public record, but, once in the DOJ’s hands, it’s out of Google’s control.

Microsoft-Yahoo! announce not-very-instant messaging agreement!

In case you missed it, Microsoft and Yahoo! have announced an interoperability agreement to connect their instant messaging platforms. This brings them together up to a userbase of 49 million users – almost on a par with AOL/ICQ ‘s 50 million – Mind you in typical Microsoft vapourware style, this interconnectivity won’t happen until the second quarter of 2006.

Dot blog bubble

With all the mergers and acquisitions going on at the minute, it is only natural to wonder what the value of your site/blog is. I see Tom Murphy recently mentioned that Boards.ie was offered $750,000 for the site back in the original dot.com bubble but they turned it down. I wonder what it would be worth now that we are in the dot blog bubble.

Well, part of that speculation has been made easier for us by Tristan Louis – he analysed the AOL-Weblogs Inc deal in great detail and came up with a valuation of $564.64 per inward link for a blog. I’m not sure if there is an easy way to tell how many inward links boards.ie has. Google reports 2910 – but that doesn’t account for the deeper links to the various fora and discussions. Still – even this conservative figure values Boards.ie at over $1.6m – nice one guys.

In my own case, Technorati reports 466 links into this site (from 118 sites). So that puts a value of $263,122 on this site! I tell you what, I’ll let it go for an even $250,000 😉

In all seriousness, influential blogger or not, there is no way that this site is worth that much. Valuations like that do nobody any favours (except perhaps Jason Calacanis). We are back in the dot com bubble days all over again. The bubble is going to burst with all the financial losses and pain that brings. Again. And technology is going to get an even worse name than it has had for the last 3-4 years.

How do we avert this second spectacular fall from grace? I have no idea – anyone who has any suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

UPDATE:
I see Kevin Burton is thinking along the same lines.

Blog for sale – apply within!

I see on Dave Winer’s blog that he has confirmed the rumour that he sold Weblogs.com to Versign – he neglected to say how much for! The rumour mill is putting a figure of ~$5m on it.

Couple that with the news that AOL are buying Weblobsinc.com for somewhere between $25-$40m, and the news of Nick Denton of Gawker Media’s deal with VNU and I’m starting to think, hey maybe there’s money in them thar blogs after all!

It feels like early 2000 all over again, or on the other hand, as BL says

for a couple million, I’d sell this blog. Serious inquiries only.

Weblogs Inc to be bought by AOL

I see PaidContent.org and Reuters are reporting that AOL are about to buy Weblogs Inc. network for $25m!

Weblogs Inc was set up by Jason Calacanis two years ago as a network of blogs and includes under its umbrella titles such as Engadget and Autoblog. According to Calacanis, Weblogs Inc earns in excess of $1m annually in Google Adsense revenues.

Congrats to Jason, $25m for two years work is, by any standards, a good return!