DoJ search requests: Google said no; Yahoo, AOL, MSN yes.

Update: Earlier today, I asked a Justice Department spokesperson which search engines other than Google received requests to provide search records. The answer: Yahoo, AOL, and MSN were also asked to supply search records information, and all complied. Google did not, and that is why the DoJ asked a federal judge on Wednesday to order the company to do so.

Another fact to consider as you sift through news coverage: Justice is not requesting this data in the course of a criminal investigation, but in order to defend its argument that the Child Online Protection Act is constitutionally sound.

It seems apparent that Google objected to the request not for privacy reasons, but on grounds that the request was too broad and burdensome. Privacy advocates I spoke to today, including attorney Sherwin Siy at EPIC, say while the DoJ's request would not identify individual users, the scope and nature of this request sets a troubling precedent. Today, they argue, only search strings and urls; tomorrow, perhaps, the IP addresses of all users who typed in "Osama Bin Laden."

Update 2: Here are PDF copies of the documents filed on Jan. 18 by Justice Department attorneys in Gonzales v. Google, Inc.: Motion to Compel, Declaration of Joel McElvain, and Declaration of Philip Stark.

Update 4: An AOL spokesperson disputes the Justice Department's statement that it complied with records request. More here.

Over at SearchEngineWatch, Danny Sullivan has an extensive and much-updated post about news that the Justice Department demanded search records data from Google....


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Google has refused to comply with the subpoena. A motion has been filed this week by US Department Of Justice to force Google to hand over the data. In particular, the Bush administration wanted one million random web addresses and records of all Google searches for a one week period. The government apparently wants to estimate how much pornography shows up in the searches that children do. Here's a thought. If you want to measure how much porn is showing up in searches, try searching for it yourself rather than issuing privacy alarm sounding subpoenas. It would certainly be more accurate.

Getting a list of all searches in one week definitely would let US federal government dig deep into the long tail of porn searches. But then again, the sheer amount of data would be overwhelming. Do you know every variation of a term someone might use, that you're going to dig out of the hundreds of millions of searches you'd get? Oh, and be sure you filter out all the automated queries coming in from rank checking tools, while you're add it. They won't skew the data at all, nope.95

Moreover, since the data is divorced from user info, you have no idea what searches are being done by children or not. In the end, you've asked for a lot of data that's not really going to help you estimate anything at all.

He has since updated the post to reflect responses from other search engines on whether they, too, were asked to supply search data to the DoJ. According to Danny, Yahoo was asked and complied. MSN issed a statement which doesn't really answer the question, which suggests that they were asked and complied. Ask Jeeves was not asked.

Danny writes,

In fairness to Yahoo, which handed over information -- and MSN which likely did the same -- it is important to note that it is not just spin that no privacy issues were involved with this particular data. As I explained in the story, the information is completely divorced from any personally identifiable data.
Link.

Previously:
Feds demand user data from Google: Battelle's analysis
DoJ demands user search records from Google

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Google has refused to comply with the subpoena. A motion has been filed this week by US Department Of Justice to force Google to hand over the data. In particular, the Bush administration wanted one million random web addresses and records of all Google searches for a one week period. The government apparently wants to estimate how much pornography shows up in the searches that children do. Here's a thought. If you want to measure how much porn is showing up in searches, try searching for it yourself rather than issuing privacy alarm sounding subpoenas. It would certainly be more accurate.

Getting a list of all searches in one week definitely would let US federal government dig deep into the long tail of porn searches. But then again, the sheer amount of data would be overwhelming. Do you know every variation of a term someone might use, that you're going to dig out of the hundreds of millions of searches you'd get? Oh, and be sure you filter out all the automated queries coming in from rank checking tools, while you're add it. They won't skew the data at all, nope.95

Moreover, since the data is divorced from user info, you have no idea what searches are being done by children or not. In the end, you've asked for a lot of data that's not really going to help you estimate anything at all.

He has since updated the post to reflect responses from other search engines on whether they, too, were asked to supply search data to the DoJ. According to Danny, Yahoo was asked and complied. MSN issed a statement which doesn't really answer the question, which suggests that they were asked and complied. Ask Jeeves was not asked.

Danny writes,

In fairness to Yahoo, which handed over information -- and MSN which likely did the same -- it is important to note that it is not just spin that no privacy issues were involved with this particular data. As I explained in the story, the information is completely divorced from any personally identifiable data.
Link.

Previously:
Feds demand user data from Google: Battelle's analysis
DoJ demands user search records from Google