In case you missed it, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch was recently featured on ABC’s Nightline in a story about Google’s refusal to hand over search data to the Bush administration. I actually heard about it after the fact but was able to see it via subscribed feed through the ABC News web site. Danny got some great air time and of course did an excellent job giving his views on the situation. We also get a peek into Danny’s home office where three huge screens dominate his desktop space.
The story entitled “Search Engine Trouble” opens with background information on the subpoena itself, including comments from US Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
“We’re not asking for the identity of Americans. We simply want to have some subject matter information with respect to these communications.”
This is followed by a comment from Google co-founder Sergey Brin:
“The idea there could be such a large overreaching, in my mind, request, based on something so far off and not related to security or anything like that, I think that’s worrisome.”
Then enters Danny who is introduced as a “world authority of search engines“. Here are some of the features and transcripts from the interview.
Danny says in introduction, “They can still be mysterious in some ways.” (‘they’ referring to search engines of course)
The reporter briefly introduces Danny, telling us he was raised in Orange County (California) but now resides in the UK, very close to another mystery – Stonehedge. He then goes goes on to say that Danny feels the government is not trying to discover who has been searching but rather, what has been searched for.
“They seem to be trying to understand how likely it is that if you were to use a search engine you might run into pornographic content.” - Danny Sullivan
The reporter says then that Danny believes the government, in an attempt to defend an anti-obscenity bill passed in 1998, wants to show how easy it is for children to innocently stumble upon inappropriate content. Danny uses a search for “Barbie dolls” as an example that can bring up “other” listings besides the actual Barbie doll. However he goes on to say that this request by the US government is not necessarily threatening anyone’s civil liberties.
“They haven’t asked for any information that’s going to violate anybody’s privacy in any way, shape or form.” – Danny Sullivan
The reporter goes on to say, “But Sullivan says the government request shows something important. The government has no idea what it’s doing.”
“It’s overkill, the amount of data that they want. They’re literally going to get more than a billion searches in what they’re asking for.” – Danny Sullivan
The interview continues, reporting that Danny thoroughly reviewed the government’s subpoena, which is available online. Danny points out that the government did not ask Google to remove automated searches from the data, the searches requested by software, as opposed to the ones made by you and me.
“For the searches to remain any automated searches that happen, some people use automation to query the search engines on a regular basis. Since they haven’t asked for those kind of automated queries to be remove, it suggests they don’t even know it happened, which maybe suggests they aren’t educated enough to know how the search engines operation or how behavior is on the searches in the first place.” – Danny Sullivan
Danny then comments on Yahoo, MSN, and AOL giving into the government’s request:
“I think it would have been good if they had pushed back. Think the amount of data, even though it wasn’t violating anybody’s privacy, was so large and was going to raise so many red flags down the line that they should have done it.”
Danny’s final comments…
“They go in so many direction, it’s difficult for anybody to keep track of absolutely everything they’re doing. Sometimes I think the search engines themselves aren’t quite certain which way they go at times.”
It was a very nice piece, briefly showing both sides of the argument and then a more lengthy un-biased third party perspective (Danny’s). If you missed the entire interview and would like to see it in it’s entirety, you can subscribe to ABC News on Demand. They offer annual and monthly subscriptions with the first month free. The specific show Danny is featured on is entitled “Off Duty” – Jan 21, 2006.