Search Should Have Learned From CardSystems

    January 25, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

When news of a security breach at CardSystems Solutions that potentially exposed some 40 million credit card accounts to outsiders began to circulate the company was vilified by Visa and MasterCard for retaining data they had no right to keep.

Now that the federal government has become part of the search engine news landscape, thanks to the revelation that it had filed a lawsuit against Google to obtain search information, a significant strategy in the business of search received laser-like focus from the media and the public. Anything a user searches, the engines keep.

The situations surrounding CardSystems and Google/MSN/Yahoo/AOL differ, of course. Someone criminally broke into CardSystems; the Feds issued subpoenas, which AOL, MSN, and Yahoo readily and quietly complied with while Google was saying ‘no’.

Should there have been data for Gonzales v Google to target in the first place? We know that in the case of CardSystems, that firm was keeping data which as a third-party payment processor it was not entitled to retain.

By virtue of searching for something online, users gave those searches unto the voluminous databases kept by the search engines. All of the big four search sites maintain terms of service language that permits them to do so. Some users even go the additional step of permitting their personal search histories to be retained, identifiably.

The search companies will justify the retention in the name of providing a service free to users. That data helps the search firms better market their advertising to potential marketers. Search advertising became a multi-billion dollar market; Google alone projects $6.5 billion in ad revenue in 2006.

Perhaps users should ask if the data-mining the search companies need to do could be accomplished without keeping all of that search information indefinitely.

Maybe the next Google that comes along will do that. It would have to match or exceed Google in search relevance, which despite some complaints otherwise, Google does better than anyone else today. Whether such a hypothetical search business could deliver enough value to advertisers that it would be a viable business model will be the true test.

If anyone even bothers to try, that is.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.