Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Search engines

There has been some concern over the last few day about search engines (in particular, the news concerning Google and whether it will hand over the search engine results to the DOJ) and privacy in general. It was not really surprising (certainly for privacy scholars, data protection experts etc) that google search results could be of use to official authorities (particularly as it contains personal information of individuals albeit indirectly).

However, what would be more of interest is the consequences of such use, particularly in the context of online profiling - users' habits, what they read, do etc. being collected.

From a data protection perspective, the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications 2002/58/EC have been very clear about the collection of personal information online (see Art. 5 on confidentiality of communications and Art. 6 on traffic data).

The Data Protection Directive (particularly Art. 8 on sensitive data) is also relevant. Art. 8(1) expressly prohibits the processing of personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade-union membership and the processing of data concerning health or sex life. There are then a list of exemptions provided under Art. 8(2). The point is that search engine results can and may show that personal information relate to the specific categories (political, philosopical beliefs etc.) Unless the exemptions apply, search engines would find itself at fault with the Data Protection Directive.

I have included a list for those who want follow up on online profiling:


FTC: Report into Online profiling
EPIC: Online profiling (pdf)

No comments: