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Google Users Change Search Habits After Snowden

Researchers find significant decrease in "embarrassing" and "private" terms in Google searches after NSA surveillance revelations.

If people don't tell you the truth, how can you tell? And, more to the point, how can you figure out the truth?

It is this problem with which Google, its competitors, and search marketers must increasingly contend, according to a new study out of Cambridge, Mass.

The study -- conducted and authored by Catherine Tucker, a management science professor at MIT specializing in marketing and economics; and Alex Marthews, president of anti-warrantless surveillance advocacy group Digital Fourth -- examined Google search trends in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations of NSA and other government surveillance over the past year. Their research revealed that people in the United States and several other countries have apparently been self-censoring in their Googling habits since news of Snowden's leaks to the press broke.

Using 2012 and 2013 Google Trends data to compare search habits in 11 countries before and after June 6, 2013 (when news broke that the NSA was tracking Internet activity and monitoring cellular subscribers), Tucker and Marthews found that searches for Department of Homeland Security watchlist terms and dozens of other terms deemed via survey "embarrassing," "private," and/or "trouble[some]" have fallen by a statistically significant amount. This is particularly true in the US, the UK, and Canada. The researchers compared these search trends against those of a control group of Google's "top" 50 search terms of 2013.

"This study is the first to provide substantial empirical documentation of a chilling effect... that appears to be related to increased awareness of government surveillance online," the researchers write.

Already, this "increased awareness" has harmed the US cloud market. The rest of the tech sector, Tucker and Marthews argue, could well follow because of it.

Read the rest of this story on All Analytics.

Joe Stanganelli is founder and principal of Beacon Hill Law, a Boston-based general practice law firm. His expertise on legal topics has been sought for several major publications, including US News and World Report and Personal Real Estate Investor Magazine. Joe is also ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
7/6/2014 | 12:58:52 PM
Re: Censorship
I feel like no matter how much people try to circumvent being monitored, it is inevitable that "Big Brother" is always watching, listening, or monitoring in some way, shape, or form.
Li Tan
Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
7/5/2014 | 10:10:21 PM
Re: Censorship
Snowden event made people be aware of and sensitive to information security. Privacy tracking is anyway a possible source of information leakage but I am not sure how much Snowden event and Prisma will change people's search behavior in the long run. Are we going to turn to other no privacy tracking search engines?
User Rank: Ninja
7/5/2014 | 4:25:17 PM
Re: Censorship
I wonder how much users are circumventing Google and using more private forms of search. It has been made clear via news reports that the government is now targeting users who frequent the anonymizing service Tor, but how many people are now using search engines like DuckDuckGo? They have a no-tracking privacy policy in place.
User Rank: Ninja
7/4/2014 | 9:45:13 PM
If a government wants to censor its citizens in a developing economy, then walls will be built around the internet, if the same is tried in a developed economy, then I2p type networks will spring up faster than the walls ability to keep up. Or the citizens could be made to censor themselves -- it works.
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