Google Users Change Search Habits After SnowdenGoogle Users Change Search Habits After Snowden
Researchers find significant decrease in "embarrassing" and "private" terms in Google searches after NSA surveillance revelations.
July 3, 2014
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.
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