The lawsuit against Google is all over the news today. I don’t feel like I really understand what’s going on. First, I was trying to figure out exactly what information the government wants. Most of the news articles are vague on this except this Reuters one which says:
a subpoena issued last year for one million random Web addresses from Google’s databases as well as records of all searches entered on Google during any one-week period.
Even still, that’s not very specific. All search terms? All search results? IP Addresses? I have no idea. I understand the whole purpose of this is supposedly pornography-related as part of the Child Online Protection Act but it is totally unclear what good this information is. There’s a lot of free data about where people surf at Alexa.com and Google has some public information with their Zeitgeist summaries. I imagine that’s not good enough for what the government is looking to do, but then again I have no idea what the government is looking to do. I don’t understand why anything about this would be top secret unless it actually has something to do with some terrorist/national security hunt, but that’s not what they’re saying.
Let’s say Google sends the government a list of all of the search terms in a given week. Three years ago it was reported that there were 250 million Google searches per day and there haven’t been any updated statistics since. Let’s conservatively estimate that number has increased to 300 million a day (it’s probably much higher). So, Google turns over a week’s worth of search terms – 2.1 billion phrases (assuming they don’t aggregate duplicates). What does the government expect to do with those? Probably fumble around with how to manage all that data and sit back and wonder how to get anything meaningful out of it. I assume they plan on some number-crunching. Let’s say 40% of the search terms involve pornography, and 5% of those the illegal kind. So what? Where does that leave us? Are they writing a research paper or investigating a crime? The fact that this is so mysterious is what bothers me, and why I’m glad Google didn’t roll over and cough up the information.