Search Box Candor

January 30, 2010

It is becoming increasing clear that we don’t lie to search engines. As the AOL search data scandal revealed, you can give away your identity simply through egosurfing.

People ask all sorts of questions to search engines. And the autocomplete features recently added to the search boxes at Google and Bing are quite revealing about what things people are searching for. This is most readily pointed out with two recent articles at Slate. The first article has a number of interesting examples of what people are typing into the Google search box, and calls for submissions from readers. It’s the second article that is the most interesting – consider the difference in suggestions that Google provides based upon your grammar – the difference in suggestions for “is it wrong to” compared with “is it ethical to” is quite interesting.

Which brings us to the outing of anonymous blogger Belle de Jour. It is not especially surprising that her identity was figured out from her online writings. What is interesting is that someone figured out her identity, kept it secret, and used a Googlewhack in order to spot when others began to suspect her identity around six years later.

Update Feb 23, ’10: See also AutoComplete Me for more Google examples.