Search engines such as Google bears a huge responsibility in practicing high ethical standards because of their important role as a gatekeeper to the vast information on the Web. Cumulatively, the qualities of Google's search result will impact millions of choices which are made daily. The focus on search engine becomes even more important since whoever that can influence Google, will be able to influence the world's opinion and choices both politically and socially.
Ethnographic study (Marable, 2003) has shown that almost half of the Web searchers trusted the search engine to present only the best or most accurate results without any bias. This bias implies the search engine's results ranking are not skewed due to advertisement or any other influences from external factors such as political influences.
Furthermore, search engine owes much of their success to the legacy left behind from the heyday of library catalogues. Library institutions held high level of ethical value for practicing non-bias. When the technology made the leap to online search engine, the same tradition remains true especially in the beginning stage of the Internet's history. Library institutions do not pursue their self-interest at the expense of its users. However, the same is no longer true in today's search engine. This become an even greater problem since the users are not aware that search engine tamper with search results by including advertising in the search results, thereby exploiting and undermining the faith that the information provided is unbiased and based on the trust passed down from the libraries and its academic institution of the printed medium over the years.
S Framework for Global Electronic Commerce
During President Clinton's administration, the US government has prepared several initiatives to assist the growth of global e-commerce. Among this initiative was the preparation of Global Electronic Commerce under the leadership of Vice President Al-Gore. This framework establishes a set of principles to guide policy development, outlines the positions on certain key issues related to electronic commerce, and provides a road map for international negotiations.
To spur the growth of global e-commerce, this framework suggested the US to adopt a non-regulatory, market-oriented approach to e-commerce in preserving the ideal of capitalism. The framework also suggested the government to have minimal government involvement or intervention for fear that unnecessary regulation of commercial activities will distort development of the electronic marketplace by decreasing the supply and raising the cost of products and services for consumers. This will create an environment whereby business model could evolve rapidly to keep pace with the rapid technological evolution.
Government's role is thereby aimed to support and enforce a consistent and simple legal environment for commerce based on a decentralized, contractual model of law rather than one based on top-down regulation. The goal is thereby to ensure competition, protection of intellectual property and privacy, prevention of fraud, fostering transparency, support of commercial transactions and facilitating dispute resolution. (The White House, 1997)
Platform for Privacy Preference (P3P) Project
The director of World Wide Web Consortium (W3), Mr. Tim Berners-Lee has been spearheading a protocol to allow website to declare their intended use of information they collected about browsing users. This protocol is known as The Platform for Privacy Preferences Project or P3P. It is designed to provide users with greater control on the information that they share, thereby increasing the user's trust and confidence in the Web usage. This will allow the users to make personal choice with an informed consent, to ensure the publisher fulfil its commitment about the use of data.
The main concerns about privacy are:
- Concerns about secure storage and transfer of information;
- Concerns that individuals' information may be collected without their knowledge or consent;
- Concerns that the ease with which information can be collected and processed is leading to an increasing amount of data collection, database matching, and secondary use of data; and
- Concerns that an individual's information may be transferred across jurisdictional boundaries to locations where it is not protected by the same privacy laws in effect where that individual resides.
According to Cranor (1999), there are variety of tools are available for encrypting files and emails. These tools prevent eavesdropping and protect data from unauthorized access. Many of these tools allow users to browse anonymously to prevent online communications from being tracked. It also hides the communication channels to prevent eavesdroppers from identifying with whom an individual is communicating with.
P3P tools allow user to control its privacy preference; handover the control of when and what data to exchange with websites. This is done via a standard "vocabulary" for describing a website's data practices.
Data protection was introduced into the legal framework of the European Union within the First Pillar as an internal market related issue, which covers the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and of the free movement of such data.
The EU is often criticized for the shortcomings in data protection. Reason for this is the paradox in dealing with the risks for security (terrorism, serious crime) versus the growing possibilities to use information effectively due to technological developments. As the importance of addressing both of these issues grows, so does the urgency in finding a solution to this dilemma.
Benjamin Franklin famously quoted that "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both". It seems that our modern society deserve neither. The Eurobarometer Survey of February 2008 shows that despite most of European citizens are concerns about data protection issues, 82% approved of monitoring passenger flight details, 72% approved telephone calls monitoring, 75% approved Internet usage monitoring and 69% approved of credit card usage monitoring. (Gallup Organization Hungary, 2008)
The European Union's directive states that the legal concept of the right to data protection incorporates the obligation on institutions that possess personal data of individuals and the rights of those individuals. The main obligations are that the data are collected fairly and lawfully and only processed for specified purposes only. The data should not be retained for a longer period than necessary.
In Article 8 of the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the Union, data protection and privacy are acknowledged to be connected but separate.
In today's economic environment, it is the advertisers who paid for the free cloud computing services rather than the users. Therefore, it is logical for these advertising companies to streamline their operations to target their audiences most effectively and efficiently by collecting massive amounts of private information. Companies such as Google utilized a set of auctioning system.
Even though there are many technologies invented to protect privacy, the same tools may also be a double-edge sword which can cut both ways.
In May 2004, while Steven Weinstock was launching an online petition to remove Jew Watch, a website that is notorious for being anti-Semitic from Google's search result, he was shocked to discover that by searching for the word "Jew" on Google, the first website listed is JewWatch.com. This incident quickly became big news on the Internet prompting the President of Google to issue an official explanation on the matter. Google explained that the ranking of such site is not intentional and it was due to the computer algorithm used. Despite the apology, Google explained that the corporation will not be influenced by petitions to remove any sites unless they are legally compelled or are maliciously attempting to manipulate their results. The explanation on this matter still exists and it resides at www.google.com/explanation.html.
Hinman (2005) claims that, in the world of the Web, the existence of a site needs to be indexed by Google. Search engines like Google act as the gatekeepers for the web, helping users to discover their desired results. The information on the Internet will simply be inaccessible to the world if Google blocks such information. The role of gatekeeper shoulders a huge responsibility especially in a democracy society whereby access to information is vital for democracy to succeed. Further to this, the search engine also functions a great catalyst in stimulating the academic world.
Google's greatest dilemma lies in the fact that it is owned by private corporations and business that are aligned to the goal of making profits. This creates a tension between the public role of search engines in maintaining data integrity as well as their corporate accountability.
As a corporation, Google needed to protect its most prized asset - the Computer Algorithm, which is responsible to pull the information from the Internet and passed it onto its intended users.
On 23rd September 1980, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) adopted the guidelines on the protection of privacy and transborder flows of personal data. This represents the international consensus on the general guidance concerning the collection and handling of personal information.
- Caufield, J. (2006). The Myth of Automated Meaning. International Review of Information Ethics, 48-62.
- Chow, R., Golle, P., & Staddon, J. (2008). Detecting Privacy Leaks Using Corpus-based Association Rules. Proceeding of the 14th ACM SIGKDD International Conference on Knowledge discovery and data mining (pp. 24-27). Las Vegas: Association of Computing Machinery.
- Cranor, D. L. (1999). Agents of Choice: Tools that facilitate notice and choice about web site data practices. Proceedings of the 21st INternational Conference on Privacy and Personal Data Protection, (pp. 19-25). Hong Kong SAR.
- Gallup Organization Hungary. (2008). Data Protection in the European Union .
- Hijmans, H., & Scirocco, A. (2009). Shortcomings in EU data protection in the third and the second pillars. Can the Lisbon Treaty by expected to help? Common Market Law Review, 1485-1525.
- Hinman, L. M. (2005). Esse est indicato in Google: Ethical and Political Issues in Search Engines. International Review of Information Ethics, 19-25.
- The White House. (1997). A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce.