09 August 2006

Search me

Two recent events have got me thinking about how our online selves could appear to those who don't know us, but encounter us this way. The first thing that got me thinking about this was my friend Gillian's own blog post to this effect. Then, this article in the NY Times about the accidental release of AOL search data has made me think on it even more. What would someone think if they got hold of my search data? (And really, what might I think of myself if I saw all my Google queries laid out in black and white?)

Out of curiosity, i've looked up my own search history for the past few days:
nc click @ dmv
brushed nickel clock
"i'd buy that for a dollar"
comma picture
david huffman
depeche mode construction time again
bedford desk

So, what does this tell you? Not much. Off hand, it doesn't even tell me that much! I have no idea who David Huffman is, though I do vaguely remember googling him... You can see I looked up some links and pictures for use on this blog, and you might surmise that I realized this morning that one of my cars' tags had expired.* I can only imagine what odd things I might find if I went back over the past three months, like the woman in the article.

A year or so ago I was doing a heavy edit for an ESL client pursing a Masters degree in Economics at the Australian National University. He was from the UAE, and had written his thesis on the economic ties between UAE and Australia. As any decent editor does, I checked a zillion of the sources he'd cited, noting when data was needed, missing, etc, and so had quite an array of information in my search history. If you'd been reading it, you might have seen me query many of the UEA's government Web sites, information about Emirates Airline and their flights to Oz, NYC, and other parts of the world, where to find halal food in Canberra and Sydney, and would have come across several Arabic-only sites. I shudder to think what one paranoid, Patriot Act-loving government official might have made of my innocent searches. Was I looking to see when and where Emirates flies so I could do something illegal? Some might wonder, what with my choice of the Arab-owned carrier, but really, I was looking at how often they flew because many UAE wholesalers fly fresh fruits, veggies, and flowers to Oz every day during the winter.

Though I'm not too worried about my data being out there (or else I'd not have shared the above search query list), it does give me pause. Who are we, and how does what we look for and think about reveal things we might or might not want others peeking in on?

*It was the Saab, Mitch, and I've already taken care of it :-)


Gillian said...

There is an exceptionally good halal butcher in Mawson, if the subject of halal in Canberra comes up again. Also a really good grocery with halal goods.

Nanci said...

Cool - will keep that in mind, though somehow I think I'd be more in need of a good kosher place... The UAE man is long out of my life, and thank God for that - as Dieter on "Sprokets" would have said, "he had grown tiresome."

Gillian said...

Sorry I forgot to check and see if you replied! Blame flu.

No kosher butcher in Canberra. You order in advance and meat gets brought in from Sydney or Melbourne. You can get some really ncie kosher dips, though.