Privacy and Search engines

Privacy Opinions - Cartoon

Privacy Opinions

As we are increasingly living our lives online, we need to think about what we share and with who. The rise of smart phones, apps, connected¬†and social media has meant that we live in an increasingly connected world, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram allow us to tell almost anyone and everyone what we’re doing, where we going and what we’re thinking.

The advent of mobile devices and development of digital platforms and services have changed the way we consume entertainment, if you want the latest Album from your favourite band you can download it in one click. If you want to watch your favourite TV series you don’t have to stay in, you can watch it via later online catch-up, or stream it live while on the move, you can even watch the whole series via a service such as Netflix, BlinkBox or Amazon Prime, all you need is a good internet connection, and a subscription. And you can share your thoughts, opinions¬†and reactions as you watch thanks to social media.

Even when we are conscious and careful of what we share on social media we face other issues connected with the data that we share both publicly and privately online and how platforms are filtering results in ever increasing drive to personalise.


If we take Google as an example, you would understand that they would collect information about searches that people carry out presumably including the terms and subjects in order to improve their service. What you may not realise is that they collect a range of other information including:

  • Device Information, including hardware information, operating systems and unique device Identifiers.
  • Log Information, including IP Addresses and Server Logs
  • Location Information, either through GPS or WiFi – this is obviously necessary if you using mapping.
  • Personal Information – if you have a Google Account, you will obviously be providing, at least some personal data such as Name, Date of Birth, an Alternate email, phone number. If you purchase apps and entertainment (music/movies) you may also provide bank/credit card details.

Interestingly Google’s example of the data they collect includes:

 your usage data and preferences, Gmail messages, G+ profile, photos, videos, browsing history, map searches, docs or other Google-hosted content. Our automated systems analyse this information as it is sent and received and when it is stored.

Digging deeper into their key terms also includes other  more details about what information they collect such as:

Sensitive personal information
This is a particular category of personal information relating to confidential medical facts, racial or ethnic origins, political or religious beliefs or sexuality.

I’m not fully sure why Google would need to collect confidential medical facts, unless it’s been provided in relation to an App or service they provide. It does state that they do not associate Cookies with this Sensitive data and that you must opt-in to share this sensitive information with 3rd parties.

Reassuring Google states that it doesn’t sell your personal data, in terms of identifiable information. But it does pass non-identifiable information to partners for processing and reuses information from search query’s¬†to provide ads and information from its partners, particularly where an ad maybe relevant to your search.

Google claims that access to personal data is tightly controlled:

We restrict access to personal information to Google employees, contractors and agents who need to know that information in order to process it for us, and who are subject to strict contractual confidentiality obligations and may be disciplined or terminated if they fail to meet these obligations.

In order to remain transparent Google give you many options to manage your data through My Account. You can manage the type of Ads you see, view what Apps are authorised to use your account information, and manage what information is collected about your location and search and browse activity.

They also provide you with options to download your data for use with another service or simply delete your data and close your account.

In order to be balanced I looked a Microsoft and Bing. Their privacy policy provides similar clauses and details the types of data they collect:

When you conduct a search, or use a feature of a Bing-powered experience that involves conducting a search or entering a command on your behalf, Microsoft will collect the search or command terms you provide, along with your IP address, location, the unique identifiers contained in our cookies, the time and date of your search, and your browser configuration. If you use Bing voice-enabled services, additionally your voice input and performance data associated with the speech functionality will be sent to Microsoft.

As with Google Microsoft talk about collecting the content of files and communications such as email or voice messages, but here they state that this is in order for you to view and respond to that content:

We collect content of your files and communications when necessary to provide you with the services you use. For example, if you receive an email using, we need to collect the content of that email in order to deliver it to your inbox, display it to you, enable you to reply to it, and store it for you until you choose to delete it

As with Google they also collect location data, device ID and information about favourites and interests. In the case of the latter this can be explicit and inferred based upon what you provide. Such data can then be shared across apps such as News, Weather and Finance.

Data usage

Microsoft state that there are 3 uses of personal data:

Providing and improving services – in order to provide the Services that they offer as part of their business both in terms of software and support

Communications- in order to inform about the services they offer and you are using including updates, subscriptions and responding to support requests

Advertising Рthis can be based upon search queries, location and content you view. Other advertising is based upon search history, demographic data they have collected on you information about the services you use. Microsoft does not use the content from personal communications (text, email, video or voice), documents or personal files such as photos for advertising.

In terms of sharing information Microsoft’s privacy policy refers to sharing data with others in a variety of ways including when you send and email, share documents or files, or make payments – wherein they are passing payment data between your bank and the merchant and fraud prevention agencies.

They also share documents with Microsoft-controlled affiliates and subsidiaries who work with them and on their behalf to provide the services and software essential to their business. Personal data may be shared with companies employed by Microsoft to provide customers services or to provide support and assist with security and protection of their systems. In these instances they are bound by Microsoft’s privacy policy.

In such cases, these companies must abide by our data privacy and security requirements and are not allowed to use personal data they receive from us for any other purpose.

Access and Control of data:

As with Google Microsoft offer you options to view, access and control the data they hold. Where as Google provided only a single link to it’s Dashboard, Microsoft provide separate links to allow you manage the data on each of its specific services in its Privacy Statement, although some of these .

Content Removal

Both Microsoft and Google allow you to  submit request to remove data from their results, including rights infringing (e.g. Copyrighted), outdated/ broken links and cached content.

Personal data in search results can be removed by Google or Microsoft but unless it is removed from the original website will continue to reappear. As a result both companies point out that it is down to the individual to contact the webmaster of the website and request the removal.

Helpfully Google provides the following advice about social media which brings us full circle back to the start of this post:

Restrict sharing settings for content you post online. Most social networking sites let you choose who you share information with. For example, you could share it just with a few friends instead of the public. Any content that is shared with the public may end up in search results..


Only post content to sites that let you control your privacy and choose who sees your posts. For some sites, anything posted there can appear in search results. If you’d be uncomfortable with a photo or piece of content being visible to strangers, don‚Äôt post it to the site

This is obviously not a completely comprehensive review of privacy policies of Microsoft and Google, but it does give an I insight into the kind of information that is collected and that we provide without even realising. Its helpful and reassuring to see that both companies give clear signposts on how to access and view your data, as well as providing option for opt outs from within their Policies. Microsoft provides most of the information regarding their service specific policies within the main policy, where as Google seems to separate theirs out into a  Google Product Privacy Guide.

I think I may come back to this in a future post and look at how the structure of each policy in terms of the headings they use and how the information is organised within the policy.

In the mean time follow the links below and see for yourself:



Its also interesting to note that Microsoft have updated their as of October 2015, whereas Google’s was last updated August 2015.

Facebook and Search

Facebook have announced a new search features called Search FYI, it claims to make it easier to¬†“find out what the world is saying about topics that matter to you”, what this means is that any of your previous status updates or public posts are now indexed and searchable by others Facebook. It will also make it easier to search for users former status updates.

So if you don’t want your posts to appear in public searches you will need to limit them via the See More Settings>Who can see my stuff> Limit the Audience for Old Posts on Your Timeline and select Limit Old Posts. This will limit it to your friends only.

Social Media and Death

With the upcoming  #citylis visit to Highgate Cemetery on Tuesday there was an interesting post by #citylis Alumni Caitlin Moore on the Cemetery as archive, which suggested the possibility of creating a mobile app to make available the information on both the notable and well known residents as well as the less well known, but still notable.

After an interesting discussion involving the use of QR codes to link to information about the deceased, I started thinking about what happens to our social media and other digital ephemera when we die. In days of old (before the internet) we could pass on our collections of CDs, DVDs and Books as well as diaries. But what happens to our email and social media when we pass on?

I found an article on Mashable here¬†that has a useful summary of what happens and whether we can bequeath our accounts. And I’ve reposted below the Infographic t=from the article

Digital Demise: What Happens to Your Online Presence When You Die?‚ÄĚ
Digital Demise: What Happens to Your Online Presence When You Die?‚ÄĚ – WebPageFX

Created by WebpageFX

Thanks for Reading!


Back to school

Back to school

After many years of working in a Library, I have finally embarked on my journey to become a fully qualified Librarian. Last week I began my lectures for an MSc Library Science at City University London #citylis

This has been an almost overwhelming experience of meeting new people, finding my way around, and not just learning new things such as the history of documents with Lyn Robinson, but learning to think differently about the way Information is organised structured or represented.

Part of this journey that I’m undertaking is going to be not just learning theories, but also finding my learning style, how much to write in lectures, getting back into reading around a topic (study skills).

Today’s students (including myself) are exposed and have access to more information than ever, with the advent of new technology and platforms such as Twitter, Facebook et al, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Its a new world where blogs, twitter and more count as much as textbooks and journal articles, learning to navigate this stream will be as much a part of the Academic experience as the writing essays, going to lectures and making notes.

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