Sunday, February 20, 2005

Amazon Personal Search History

Slashdot reports on the recently disclosed patent application by for "Persistently storing and serving event data," which describes's personal search history feature. Admittedly, I need to spend more time studying the privacy implications of "personalized searching" - the collection and storage of my search histories. But one item from their patent application seems troubling:
[0048] A Tag's "undisplayable" flag may be used, for example, to allow users to effectively remove events from their viewable event histories. For example, the web site system 30 may provide an application 38 and associated user interface through which users can view and search their respective event histories, and "delete" selected events from such histories. When a user deletes a particular event (such as particular search query submission or browse node access), the corresponding event object is marked by the event history server 32 as "undisplayable" to prevent the user from viewing the associated event, but remains accessible to clients of the event history server 32.
This sounds like giving a user the ability to "delete" their search history, which is important for users who want to protect their privacy and prevent others from viewing their search history. But, depending on how the interface is built and the privacy policy is written, users might think that this act of deletion actually erases their search history from Amazon's databases altogether. Not so - the data just won't be displayed. Amazon still has the data, and apparently can share it with other "clients of the...server" - whatever that means.

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