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   Google, Web services and privacy

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I have a lot of respect for Google. They are the best search engine I
know of.  They have the best Usenet archive I know of.  They use some
of what I consider to be the coolest technologies around.  And they
let you access their data as XML, making them one of the few "Web
services" that actually work.  "Google XML API" [1] gives you access
to the same data that are available through the HTML interface, with
the important difference that non-interactive user agents are allowed
and expected [2] to use this service.  As with the HTML interface, the
service is free to users with the minor difference that users of the
XML API are limited to 1000 queries per day and 1000 results per query
[3] -- neither of which seems unreasonable to me; I don't think I ever
came anywhere near that number using the HTML interface.

To enforce these limits, a service needs to discriminate between users
-- and indeed an XML API query must include a license key assigned to
a user when he or she signs up for the service.  Google's terms of use
prohibit acquiring more than one key per (human) user[4]; to enforce
this, Google tie codes to email addresses.  Which leads to the
observation that with the XML API, every Google query is linked
directly and unambiguously to user identity, whereas an HTML query is
only linked to an IP address [5].

Do I care if Google know I searched for "offshore exploration oil"?
No.  Do I trust them not to release that fact to, say, Inland Revenue
or IRS? Yes. Do I like that fact sitting in a database somewhere[6]
FFU?  No.


[1] http://www.google.com/apis/
[2] http://www.google.com/apis/api_faq.html#gen6
[3] http://www.google.com/apis/api_faq.html#gen7
[4] http://www.google.com/apis/api_faq.html#gen10
[5] Unlike an IP address which may or may not give hints to user
identity, a license key is an assertion by the user that she is who
she claims to be. Using another's id is a violation of the terms of
[6] And being XML, the data are likely to outlive the application (TM)


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