What A Google Search Query Could Have Told Murder Investigators

GoogleMurderIntent. Marketers know every search engine query relates to intent. Intent to make a purchase, intent to travel from point A to point B, and intent to research information to perform an act. Intent begins with an aim or purpose. So when I read the Sunday New York Daily News piece on how Casey Anthony murder trial investigators missed a Google search for "fool-proof" suffocation, I became dumbfounded.

As unusual as it might seem, on Sunday Florida Sheriff investigators admitted to missing a key piece of evidence when preparing to prosecute Casey Anthony on the death of her daughter, Caylee. A jury acquitted Anthony in July 2011. The Google search overlooked: "fool-proof" suffocation. It turns out that the sheriff office's computer investigator missed the June 2008 search made from a computer Anthony used.

Preparing for a murder trial, law enforcement officials have been quick to investigate online activity for clues by monitoring Twitter tweets, downloading mobile phone records and investigating social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

People who launch a browser, type specific words into a search box and hit the enter key usually have something in mind -- a clear indication of intent. Ironically, the one digital media technology or act that provides the most insight into human characteristics or intent of an action, intentionally or unintentionally -- search queries -- sometimes gets overlooked.

Google and Microsoft built an entire advertising business based on search and intent. Magnetic and Simplifi took search data and built a similar model based on retargeting. Recently, Toronto-based Chango received $12 million in funding to build out its search ad retargeting offerings. Numerous posts describe how marketers can capitalize on search data.

"Just as search history can show intent for purchasing, I believe that search history could also show intent for other activities, including illegal ones," said Frost Prioleau, Simplifi CEO. "I would think if prosecutors gained access to suspects' search history that could become very valuable evidence."

Granted, the oversight was a critical mistake. Maybe law enforcement should think like marketers and look at search engine queries as leads.


Murder Investigation from Shutterstock

1 comment about "What A Google Search Query Could Have Told Murder Investigators".
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  1. Jonathan Rosen from SpotRunner, November 26, 2012 at 6:21 p.m.

    Laurie thanks - I has to shock and disappoint so many of us in the industry.
    The mistake was painfully simple and avoidable; the investigator searched only the I/E browser records of which there were only 17. He completely failed to search the other browsers; in this case Firefox with 1,200 searches including the one noted. According to the article "The sheriff's office didn't consult the FBI or Florida Department of Law Enforcement for help...". Another sign that peripheral agencies still have some catching up to do.

    -Jon Rosen
    Former head of Strategy; AOL Search

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