Sunday, January 03, 2010

Exploring Web Science Part 3 - Privacy trade

Personalization is the web’s new buzzword. The tradeoff between personalization and privacy will be one of the most challenging questions to arise in years to come. My guess is that everything which are connected to web will have to “spy”. Personalization is a major opportunity for search companies!

Nowadays, Internet users are depending on various search engines in order to be able to find requested information on the Web. Although most users feel that they are and remain anonymous when they place their search queries but that is not the case.

Personalization requires user profiling, explicitly /implicitly the profile is created. Implicit profile is created by user queries, clicks, etc. explicit profile is created by building social network. That’s why Google/yahoo trying to build their own social network. That is, personalization is about reacting meaningfully on the basis of a user’s profile, anticipating his or her needs. Profiles could be created by asking users to fill out a form or inferred less intrusively from background analysis of their clickstream.

Everyone who works in the search business knows that to respond properly to a question, it is necessary to take the user, and his or her context, into account. Keyword input is not enough. Even a full statement of the question would not be enough (even if computers could understand it). In order to resolve the inevitable ambiguities of a query, it is essential to know the user’s perspective and context, where she is coming from, why she is asking the question. We need the ability to represent and refine the user’s profile. From a search engine’s point of view, personalization has two distinct aspects. First, it is necessary to know the user in order to answer his questions in a way that is both pertinent and helpful. Second, knowing the user allows more precisely targeted advertising that maximizes clickthrough rate and hence profit.

As I write, about 250 million people access the web regularly. By and large, they all do so in the same way, regardless of where they live or what their lifestyle, culture, and needs and expectations are. It’s unlikely that this is really what people want.
Are the privacy policies of search engines strong enough to encourage widespread use of personalized services? The issue is so important that it could stimulate radical architectural innovations. For instance, your own web might be safer if it were stored locally on your computer, or on your organization’s proxy server. Regardless of where it resides, the search engines will have to offer strong and realistic guarantees on the privacy of communities and their members.

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