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Search Engines — How Much Personal Data Are They Really Protecting?


Most of us have experienced searching Google for something, say a pair of jeans for example, visiting a site that sells that good, then seeing an advertisement for that exact website or even a specific pair of jeans we had been looking at previously while browsing the internet for other reasons. In fact, when doing a search on Google, the top results are often ads that are specially displayed by Google since there is auction between advertisers based on the words typed into the search bar as soon as the keywords are inputted (Harris 2018). Google, and other popular search engines and social media sites largely use data the user inputs, browser history, and sometimes even private messaging to focus advertising to that particular user. This causes privacy concerns for many users of these search engines, receiving eerily specific advertisements based on their personal browsing history.

However, there is a new wave of search engines aiming to protect the privacy of their users, led primarily by DuckDuckGo. Instead of accessing and utilizing consumers’ private browsing information taken from their internet history and trackers, advertisement is tailored to the user only using what they provided to the search engine, i.e. the keyword. Because of this, so far DuckDuckGo doesn’t have the capacity to display localized results, such as local restaurant recommendations and the like (Evangelho, 2018).

This illustrates multiple concepts we have covered in class, specifically in regards to advertising based on a specific user’s “value” of a certain product. For example, if a user searches for a pair of jeans, one can equate this to their value for jeans to be higher, thus matching denim advertisers to this specific user. However, most popular search engines and social media, like Google, will dig through personal information to extract this data to make the matching that much more precise. Both Google and DuckDuckGo use network-based matching markets to sell advertising; however, DuckDuckGo has found a way to do so without jeopardizing their consumers’ personal information taken from accounts and browsing history. 


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October 2018