Too Much Information

This’ll make you cough your cookies–and then delete them:

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 that mean Google has the technical ability to link a person’s searches together and divulge them when legally required?
Yes. Google says in its FAQ that it records Internet address, date, time, browser type, operating system and a cookie ID.

Author and entrepreneur John Battelle received word from Google this week that the company can perform two important types of matches. (We confirmed this with Google and followed up with additional questions.)

First, given a number of search terms, Google can produce a list of people (identified by Internet address or cookie) who searched for a given term. Second, given a collection of Internet addresses, Google can produce a list of the terms searched by the user of a given address. That effectively creates an electronic dossier of an individual.

Deleting cookies on a regular basis is good computer hygene. Based on the above, it’s also good advice. Not a perfect solution, a good idea all the same.

Advertisements

25 Responses to “Too Much Information”

  1. ArtD0dger Says:

    That’s good advice. I just deleted my VodkaPundit cookies.

  2. jb Says:

    Man, someone’s a little snippy this afternoon (Art). Did you forget your prozac today?

  3. Grisha Says:

    Can this be countered by using software like Anonymizer? And would Anonymizer’s servers be subject to the same attention from law enforcement that Google, et al, is now receiving?

  4. Chuck Pelto Says:

    TO: Will Collier
    RE: Two Things

    “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.” — Will Collier, citing someone else

    Firstly….this looks like another Lawyers’ Full Time Employment Act.

    Secondly….as I was telling tshog, down the hall from here, I don’t give a rat’s hiney what other people think about what I say or what I read. And if someone is paranoid because I can make bombs out of bisquick, that’s THEIR problem not mine. But if they want to make it mine, I can make it eversomuch more theirs than mine….

    Regards,

    Chuck(le)

  5. Chuck Pelto Says:

    P.S. Additionally…

    …with respect to the ‘firstly’ item (above), I’d say, “You can take that idea to the bank.”

    The question becomes, who has the ‘gonads’ and/or authority to resist it? Especially if it has nothing to do with national security or something relating to a felony?

  6. rbj Says:

    Good thing I don’t have anything to worry about (hurriedly srambles to delete his cookies.)

  7. Eric M Says:

    Yes. Google says in its FAQ that it records Internet address, date, time, browser type, operating system and a cookie ID.

    If I’m reading this correctly, deleting your cookies will only force said lawyer to subpoena the records of your ISP to get you internet address. Unless, of course, Google’s “internet address” is something other than the internet protocol (IP) address given to you by your ISP.

  8. ArtD0dger Says:

    I’m sure neither Will nor Stephen specifically configured Vodkapundit to set cookies, but it does nevertheless. A lot of blogs do.

    I run with ‘session cookies only’ checked so junk cookies at least get flushed every time I restart Firefox. I use an extension (Add N Edit Cookies) to deliberately make permanent the few that I want to keep. But that process is a pain, so I’m open to a better solution…

    Most end-user ISP accounts have dynamic IP addresses which are occasionally refreshed, will this at least complicate cyber-tracking efforts?

  9. Robert Speirs Says:

    Can I go to the bathroom now? Please??

  10. Chuck Pelto Says:

    TO: Robert Speirs
    RE: Coming & Going

    “Can I go to the bathroom now? Please??” — Robert Speirs

    You can go if you THINK you can go.

    Regards,

    Chuck(le)

  11. edgr Says:

    Deleting google’s cookie is a pain and if you have any non-default preferences set, you don’t want to only accept a session cookie.

    A better way is to use this bookmarklet to set your google ID to 0000000000000000 while retaining the preference sections of your cookie.

    You just save the piece of javascript as a bookmark, browse to google.com and run it.

  12. Mike Daley Says:

    I’m just a dumb f–k reader, but, aren’t the cookies on our computers, not some master 2 trillion terabyte google machine from hell?
    How the f is google, or anybody else, going find my computer in the billions of google searches done each day?
    Well, maybe if my search was something on the order of: Osama old buddy, how and where can I help destroy the evil BushCheneyhalliburtonhitlermachine, and I actually went to a website answering the question.
    Wait, even then, how does the evil google machine find my cookie? Unless and until I return to said search/website?
    Really stupid old guy waits for answer.

  13. John Says:

    Ok… I’ll use an example.

    There are a couple things at play here. Let’s say your wife dies in a questionable “accident.” One thing that will most likely be examined is your computer.

    Let’s say you are an average joe and not a hardened criminal and you did your research ahead of time by going to google and searching on “how to kill my wife.” First, that will be in your history on your hard drive. Second, depending on what sites you visit, there may be files in your cache or temporary internet folder (ie: a diagram or something). Third, the concern here is that a cookie – which is on your computer – will have a session ID which may be able to be tracked back to google and their servers. For example, if the police are fairly certain you were on your computer on Tuesday between 1pm and 10pm, but they can’t find any other information on your computer but that cookie and session ID then they might go fishing at Google.

    One important thing to keep in mind about deleting cookies, history and anything on your computer. When you delete something, it is not really gone. The space is simply allocated as free for use. Thus, that data can be recovered by skillful investigators. If you have serious concerns about your privacy, you should look into encryption like PGP.

    Oh yeah, standard disclaimers apply. Don’t kill your wife. I’m certain someone more technical than I am will find some errors in this, but this is the “for dummies” version.

    FYI – the example is from a real case in which a Kansas State University prof researched how to murder his wife before doing it. Typical of an academic.

  14. beautifulatrocities Says:

    That’s pretty creepy. Not that I have anything to hide….

  15. Kevin Says:

    great, now I’ll need to grab a laptop and go wardriving on some stranger’s WiFi whenever I want to research how to kill my wife (and then delete cookies, refrag my HDD, run some uitility to clean out the deleted bits.) Makes you allmost wonder if it’s worth it.

  16. edgr Says:

    @Mike Daley:

    Your cookie doesn’t actually store your search history. It just contains a unique number. Every time you visit google, they look at your IP address and you ID number, plus any searches you do, and put them in a big database.

    So they build up a profile of all the searches you have ever done, not on your computer but in their database. All that remains to connect it to you personally is to subpoena your ISP with an IP address and a time, and they can link your entire search history with you.

    Even if your ISP doesn’t log for very long, they can just get a recent IP address from the database.

  17. mlah Says:

    there are a lot of good tool son old windows cd’s. break out that old windows 95 cd and browse it. there are some really good sysadmin toold on it that windows doesn’t like everyone getting their hands on now.

    one of them lets you write a dit, or a dah to any bit on a hard drive.

    THAT will erase a hard drive. windows deleting, reformatting, defragging will not. write 1’s to the entire hard drive.

    i guidance software encase forensics. write 1’s. then write zeros. then rebuild on it.

    it’s clean.

  18. John Says:

    PGP would be about the only thing I’d trust. It has a shredder utility that will let you specify a number of passes. Rather than simply reallocating the space or writing over it with random noise, it will rewrite over the space over and over decreasing the chances of recovery.

  19. Chuck Pelto Says:

    TO: John
    RE: On the One Hand

    “There are a couple things at play here. Let’s say your wife dies in a questionable “accident.” One thing that will most likely be examined is your computer.

    Let’s say you are an average joe and not a hardened criminal and you did your research ahead of time by going to google and searching on “how to kill my wife.”” — John

    That’s a good point.

    RE: On the Other Hand

    Your wife [or someone else you are associated with in one way or another] dies in a mysterious accident.

    You were surfing the web at the time of the incident. The cookies and such could be used as proof that you were nowhere near the scene at the time.

    RE: On the Third Hand

    You could be a computer whiz who programmed the computer to be doing the surfing while you went out and committed a crime.

    Regards,

    Chuck(le)

  20. Michael Says:

    Deleting your cookies won’t do anything at all to cover your tracks or wipe your history. As noted above, your IP address is recorded on Google’s servers with each search you perform. Roughly (in layman’s terms, and simplified), Google’s logs read something like:

    02/03/2006 23:17 192.168.1.1 : 12345 “busty+beauties”

    Which is the date, time, internet address and port of the computer that searched for “busty+beauties”. Such a record exists in their database for each search, and likely additional records showing which link or links you clicked on in the search results.

    This isn’t really unique to Google, though they’re obviously much more invested in the ability to collect, organize and analyse this data. Virtually any web server hosting any web site collects this information as well, it’s simply part of the way the web works.

  21. UnemployedCapitalist Says:

    Michael – Thank you for sorting out the “dreaded cookie” mystery. Not that anyone likes the idea of someone leaving ID bits on their private property, but cookies seem to help get rid of the little annoyances that users demand. If you don’t like cookies – don’t accept them and then don’t complain about the “user experience” not being as convenient.

  22. Augurwell Says:


    I’m with Winston Churchill.
    .

  23. The AMeican Patrol Says:

    Anyone have a gmail address? I first noticed that gmail “reads” emails when I got a forward about the Rose Bowl, and on the right there were advertisments for Texas and USC merchandise.

  24. Jon Says:

    Clear your history, clear your cookies, and use Tor. Problem solved-ish.

  25. edgr Says:

    @Michael:

    The thing is, google keeps a record looking more like this:

    02/03/2006 23:17 192.168.1.1 : 80 “busty+beauties” 8989898349834867723

    Where the big long number is a unique google ID.

    Then when you go on the internet the next day with your dynamic IP address, they record:
    02/04/2006 22:12 192.105.0.2 : 80 “my+other+search” 8989898349834867723

    Now most places would not be able to relate those two. But due to the google cookie, these all get into the one file. Of course this only applies if you don’t have a static IP address.

Comments are closed.


%d bloggers like this: