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Search Engine Marketing & Privacy Concerns

Professional search engine optimization (SEO) companies amass an astounding amount of information. Unsurprisingly, Google is at the top of the totem pole of collecting and organizing search engine marketing campaign data. As SEO grows as an industry, the number of privacy concerns and legal battles around them has increased as well.

What is SEM?

SEM (search engine marketing) is a new form of marketing, and as such, is not yet standardized. SEM methods are continuously evolving, along with the changing perceptions of optimization. There are two distinct concerns regarding SEM practices, which can be classified into investors’ concerns and users’ concerns.

Major investors’ concerns are as follows:

  • Placing paid search campaigns on search engine results pages have been to topic of significant controversy. In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandated disclosure of paid advertisements on search engines.
  • Private interest groups are reducing the definition of SEM and rendering it synonymous with “pay-per-click” campaigns. This means that search engine optimization (SEO) would fall outside of the SEM definition.
  • Trademark infringement by third-party bidding has also been an area of concern.

From a user’s point of view, major privacy and security concerns are as follows:

  • Certain advertisements contain external applications, which can often affect users’ browser settings, or show pop-ups in non-affiliated pages. Such applications might also be spyware.
  • Third-party cookies can seriously compromise the user’s privacy or anonymity. Such cookies can enable advertisers to trace the address of the browser.

Google Analytics

In June 2010, a controversy arose around new additions to Google Analytics and the privacy issues that it touched upon. With these new additions, it became possible for website operations to use the search engine optimization suite to sift through Facebook profiles and Twitter posts. The software allowed individuals to conduct search engine marketing campaigns to find Facebook and Twitter profiles of individuals who have visited their websites, including a certain amount of personal information about these individuals.

Google’s privacy practices have often been criticized. Privacy professionals have often warned users to be aware of ways to protect their personal information. Regarding this particular Google controversy, the blogger Antoine Pace stated,

“The capacity for linking from Google or Twitter is quite well known and popular. There should probably be a warning saying that, by doing this, you are potentially disclosing you information, or something similar. If you are concerned about the use of your personal information, then you need to protect it. If you are scared about someone stealing your wallet, you don’t put it on the fence outside. Make sure your information is protected from the public.”

Scroogle

In response to search engine privacy concerns, certain web users have begun to use a search engine nicknamed the “Anti-Google.” Scroogle, developed by David Brandt in 2005, is a search engine that has no advertising, rather relies on small donations from its users. Scroogle ensures user privacy by masking the IP address of users who want to use Google search capabilities anonymously. It also offers an option for SSL encryption (256-bit AES key) of all communication between their computer and the search page.

Scroogle functions as a proxy for Google searches, which means that search terms, IP addresses and other search information that Google typically records is anonymized. The service then deletes all logs and cookies on their services within 48 hours, for additional privacy protection.

The increasing use of Scroogle and other similar proxy search engines remains a concern for Google advertisers and other search engine marketers. Although it is only a relatively small percentage of users who are currently using these services, the number is bound to increase, unless user privacy is taken seriously by the big players.

Summary

This post takes a look at search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO), and how these relatively new ways of marketing can impact the security and privacy of users. The article takes a look at some of the major concerns from an investor’s and user’s perspective. The article also sites a recent SEM controversy, with new features offered by Google Analytics. Finally, the article introduces Scroogle, a search engine that allows users to mask their IP addresses in order to use Google search capabilities anonymously.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Foundation Examination (Foundations), a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM) (III.B.j.i.)
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