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Consumers Think Twice Before They Search

  • NY Times, Wednesday, January 25, 2006 10:30 AM

People are starting to think twice about what they type into the search box. The New York Times talks to a woman who found a story on the BBC's Web site about a British politician who was caught with a "rent boy"--a young male prostitute. The woman, not understanding what a rent boy was, looked it up on Google and became immediately afraid upon finding the answer that she could be held accountable for child pornography by the government. She'll be fine, of course, but her story underscores the effect the government's aggressive efforts at obtaining user data have had on consumers. By now, many know that the government has subpoenaed user search data from the major search engines--Google, Yahoo!, America Online, MSN (and that all but Google agreed to hand over the information)--in its bid to bring back a law struck down by the Supreme Court banning children from viewing pornography. Some have actually misconstrued the so-called "child pornography law" as banning people from viewing naked pictures of children (which is legal in an appropriate context). A man who conducted research for the Discovery Channel about circumcision expressed concern that in conducting such research, one must view photos of nude boys. "There are so many things you can accidentally fall into when you're surfing on the Internet," he said. In any event, the signs show that people are definitely starting to worry about our Big Brother in Washington.

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