FAQ: When Google is not your friend

Google's recent legal spat with the U.S. Department of Justice highlights not only what information search engines record about us but also the shortcomings in a federal law that's supposed to protect online privacy.

It's only a matter of time before other attorneys realize that a person's entire search history is available for the asking, and the subpoenas begin to fly. This could happen in civil lawsuits or criminal prosecutions. That type of fishing expedition is not legally permitted for Web mail providers. But because search engines are not fully shielded by the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act--concocted back in the era of CompuServe and bulletin board systems--their users don't enjoy the same level of privacy.

Q: Does Google collect and record people's search terms whether they're logged in or not?

Yes, Google confirmed this week that it keeps and collates these results, which means the company can be forced to divulge them under court order. Whether Google does anything else with them is another issue.

News source: C|Net News.com

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