Health Vs. Search Data: What Are People More Willing To Share?

There’s a perception that Google’s incognito mode allows people to browse the internet privately without collecting personal data. The message in this mode states that downloads and bookmarks will be saved, but browsing history, cookies, and site data will not. Experts say that’s not true.

The $5 billion privacy lawsuit against Alphabet, Google’s parent, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California alleges that the company violates wiretapping and privacy laws. It could make all those who searched in this model eligible to receive $5,000, which seems very small when considering that the company’s advertising revenue reached $134.81 billion in 2019.

“You’re basically masking searches from others who might choose to use your computer,” said Tal Jacobson, GM at Israeli-based CodeFuel, which owns the privacy search engine Privado. “It doesn’t save it in the history of your browser.”

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The terms being searched are found in the long URL of the web page when users are not in incognito mode.

Each website someone clicks on will include the machine’s IP address, and user agent, which includes browser, operating system and location. Incognito mode doesn’t save the website in the browser history, but it does save and share other information, he said.

Some incognito search engines like Privado encrypt the URL, which prevents anyone from logging searches, making it difficult for advertisers to target on intent. When a user turns on the incognito mode in Google, the engine tells the user that “recent activity and search history aren’t available when you’re in incognito.”

People who are concerned about privacy should not use Google search when logged in to Gmail because the technology can make the connection to a person. They should use a different browser that doesn’t share the information with Google, not Chrome. Some people use a VPN, especially when using an open Wi-Fi connection.

People consider privacy features as being private, yet many are not -- from incognito modes on search engines to COVID-19 tracing applications.

Although people are willing to share data for the sake of saving lives, the search browser data is the data they are least willing to share.

Privado launched an online data privacy survey, polling more than 500 consumers across the United States ages 18 to 74. The survey found that some 65% of consumers are comfortable sharing their personal data to stop the spread of COVID-19.

What type of personal data did they share? Some 84% cited health data, while 58% cited location, 36% cited social media, 31% cited search history, and 8% said other.

Some 45% of consumers are willing to share their health-related search data with any agency helping to contain the spread of COVID-19. Only 16% are willing to share their health-related search data with big tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

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