Personalized Search Tools: New Privacy Battleground?

Do you want a search engine “personalized” enough to search not only the www, but also your own computer’s hard drive? Where is the line between privacy and convenience drawn?According to Reuters, Microsoft is attempting to recapture the search engine market lost to recently publicly traded Google.

Microsoft recently released a beta version of their new search engine product which not only searches the WWW, but also searches the HD on the resident computer.


In a demonstration reported by Reuters in early August, search terms were typed “into a prototype version of MSN toolbar which runs as an add-on to the Internet Explorer browser. Search results, such as e-mail, e-mail attachments, pictures and documents, were also returned nearly instantaneously. Results from the Web for the same search terms were displayed on a separate pane to the right.”

That experience is way too personal for my own tastes. I don’t want any part of a search engine that reviews the contents of my HD while performing a search on the Web. Call me paranoid, I don’t mind.

However, “big brother” Microsoft isn’t the only player in the personalization game. Yahoo! also discussed personalized search at the 2004 Search Engine Strategies San Jose conference in early August. And even Google announced Google Personalized Search in March of this year in Google Labs.

Eurekster (, is online and states that it is “the only Internet search engine providing personalized search powered by social networking technologies.” According to the company, Eurekster “learns” from the behavior of users and shares popular URLs and searches.

So, on the topic of personalized search engines, since my feelings are not particularly “neutral” nor are they even particularly “friendly,” I’ll simply say my response is “no thanks.”

There is no free lunch. If someone is offering you something for free—if only you will fill out a form or two—it’s not free. You are bartering for it with your personal information. And, information is the most valuable of all commodities in our current business environment.

For those concerned about security—be sure you understand what information will be collected and how it will be used and distributed, from visits to websites, downloaded software, purchased software, health information, consumer information, and any other personal information.

If you visit a website without a clearly stated privacy policy, leave. If there is one, read it. If you don’t agree with it, leave. If your own site doesn’t have one, write it. Let your own visitors know what information you collect and how you use it.

Privacy is becoming paramount in the digital environment. Be sure you know exactly how and when your personal information is being used—and by whom.

© Copyright 2004 by Angela Allen Parker of Wicked Wordcraft

This article first appeared in the September 2004 issue of the IVAACast – official newsletter of the International Virtual Assistants Association.