Ever wondered what data Google’s search engine collects and why we retain search logs for certain periods of time? Our first ever Brussels Tech Talk on 28 January 2010 was about this and other questions on online privacy, given that it was Data Protection Day.
Dr Alma Whitten, Google’s engineering lead for privacy, addressed a full room of policy makers and other interested stakeholders. Alma demonstrated how we harness the power of data to “learn from the good guys, fight the bad guys, and invent the future”.
While the technology is complicated, the explanation is simple: log data enable our engineers to refine algorithms for the benefit of all search users. If clicking on the top results occurs for any given query, it signals that we are doing something right. If people are hitting ‘next page’ or typing in another query, we learn something is wrong. Every time a user searches on the web, you benefit from what Google has learned from millions of previous searches. However, rather than a solved problem, the search science is still in its infancy. By launching hundreds of innovations in search just during the last year, we’re constantly trying to improve search so you’ll hopefully find among the first results the website that contains the answer you were looking for in midst of more than a trillion unique URLs.
We aim to always balance innovative product development with a serious respect for users’ privacy. For us, this process starts with providing transparency and allowing users control. Alma explained the ways we’re working to provide our users with more transparency and choice: things like the Ads Preferences Manager, Google Dashboard, and Data Liberation Front. And she referred to the challenges engineers face to achieve transparency and control with respect to different categories of data such as logged-in vs. unauthenticated data.
P.S. The video’s sound quality could be better – we’re arranging for superior recording equipment for the next Brussels TechTalk.