Should Google Have Kept Internet Searches Private?

Google’s new “Searchtracker” app that allows anyone to see the full record of any other person’s history of Google searches raises some significant ethical issues.

Google never promised privacy to individuals which used its website to search the Internet. But it seems to me there was an implied contract which the app violates. There also seems to be significant potential of harm to reputation, for example if people use the app to identify who has searched on line for pornography or spent hours “googling themselves” in a narcissistic fashion.

At the same time, I could not resist using the new app, including checking on some people I know well. Or at least, I thought I knew them until I saw their search histories. As I myself yielded to temptation, I don’t have the right to judge all the other people who will use the app to find out what their friends, co-workers, spouse and children have been searching for on line.

If you want to draw your own conclusions, the app is available for free download here.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.