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Edward Snowden calls out Google over search engine’s privacy


Edward Snowden, the individual responsible for one of the most significant information leaks in US history, decided on Tuesday that it was time to call out Google’s search engine.

He posted, “Is it just me, or have search results become absolute garbage for basically every site? It’s nearly impossible to discover useful information these days (outside the ArchWiki)” on Twitter yesterday.

When I asked Snowden for clarification if he was talking about Google and he said, “I definitely mean search engines (among others), and Google is the worst by far, even w/o poor results.”

Privacy concerns: Snowden’s biggest gripe, it seemed, was with Google’s search engine being “inaccessible to anyone who cares about privacy.” He called it “hostile” since some scripts required captchas and because of page redirects for mandatory, scripts-required cookies for ad tracking and user tracking.

He then goes on to tell Google to think about try using Google “in a privacy-preserving manner.” The funny thing to me is that 10 years ago Google went the HTTPS route and stopped passing referrer data to website owners in the name of privacy. But Google did not go too far where the company itself would not collect this data. Snowden asked Googlers themselves to try to use Google Search with all scripts disabled, via a TOR, not logged in and while not using Chrome – it does not provide a good search experience, implied Snowden.

What happened. Here is the timeline of tweets where this all occurred:

(1) Here is where I drag Google’s Public Search Liaison Danny Sullivan into this, keep in mind, I worked with Danny Sullivan here for years, so there was some humor here in this tweet:

(2) Edward Snowden responds to Danny Sullivan saying he didn’t think he was talking about Google:

Danny Sullivan of Google said he’d pass along the feedback but asked for examples, which Snowden said he is not in a position to give.

Privacy the future? We have seen search engines like DuckDuckGo and Brave slowly gain momentum with promises of privacy first. Plus Google keeps pushing off its Privacy Sandbox solution because it is not satisfying privacy advocates.

Google needs the data for its ad network and Google Ads. That is where the company makes most, by far, of its revenue.

Why we care. Will this tweet from Edward Snowden be enough to trigger something at Google to take a hard look at their privacy and user practices? Probably not but it did get some Googlers to respond to his concerns and “pass that along” to those higher up in the Google chain.


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About The Author

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.



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