Privacy fears fail to dent Google image

2012-03-09 22:00

San Francisco - Google is almost everyone's favorite search engine, despite misgivings about data-collection and advertising practices that are widely seen as intrusive.

A survey of released on Friday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found 83% of US search engine users rated Google as their preferred search engine.

That was up from 47% in 2004, the last time that Pew gauged people's attitudes about Internet search engines.

Yahoo's search engine ranked a distant second at 6%, according to the latest numbers, down from 26% in 2004.

Google Inc. has turned its dominant position in internet search into a gold mine. The company's internet search engine is the hub of an advertising system that generated $36.5bn in revenue last year  up from $3bn in 2004.

But the Pew findings also indicate Google may be risking its popularity by trying to learn more about users in a quest to sell more advertising.

Nearly three quarters of search engine users said they don't want search engines to sift through their personal information to deliver results tailored to their individual interests.

Google has been doing this more frequently since January when its search engine began to include personal information pulled from Google's social networking service, Plus.

More than two-thirds said they don't want to be targeted by customized ads because they don't want their Web surfing activities to be tracked and analysed.

Google might be vulnerable to a backlash if its major rivals, including Yahoo!, Microsoft and Facebook, didn't also collect personal information to help them aim their ads at the right audiences.

Like its rivals, Google believes a well-placed ad is appreciated by most web surfers. To gain a better grasp on people's preferences, Google this month overhauled its privacy policy to enable the company to compile individual dossiers on its logged-in users' activities on more than 60 different services, including internet search.

Pew took its survey of 2 253 adults, including 1 729 internet users, before the March 1 revision to Google's privacy policy, but mostly after the company had announced its changes.

The poll spanned January 20 through February 19. The changes were announced January 24. The results based on internet users have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points

Google and its rivals say they offer a variety of tools to protect their privacy, including ways to erase their search histories. But only 38% of internet users are aware of these privacy-protection options, Pew found.

Whatever privacy fears might be nagging them, most people remain comfortable using search engines. Pew found 59% of online Americans use a search engine at least once day, up from 29% in 2004.