Google cracks down

On Blogs

Yahoo sees a chance and seizes it

August 27, 2006|By Troy Mccullough | Troy Mccullough,Sun Columnist

While Google is trying to close a door, Yahoo sees an opening.

Google's recent crackdown on the use of its name as a verb has led to a lot of grumbling on the Web. Fearing a rampant misuse of its company name, the search giant has sent out letters to some news media outlets requesting that they take care when using Google in print.

It's a name, not a verb, the company says. You can conduct a search using Google, but a pox be upon you if you Google something.

The company claims its rapid success has made it susceptible to "brand dilution," and it doesn't want to see Google go the way of Kleenex, Jell-O and Frisbee.

But many have found Google's crackdown to be a distinctively evil edict from a company that has promised the world that it is anything but. And earlier this month, one of Google's chief competitors seized its opportunity.

Tara Kirchner, a Yahoo spokeswoman, said that her company is taking a different approach with its name.

"People don't often do what you want them to do, and brands are more about what consumers think, than what companies want. We're OK with that," Kirchner wrote on the official Yahoo blog.

"Is Yahoo! a verb, noun or exclamation? Maybe it's all of them," she said. "We leave that to you. You can Yahoo! to your heart's content, any way you want to."

Defending privacy

Where AOL briefly opened a door, a blogger is trying to close it.

AOL's release of millions of search records last month didn't inspire a lot of confidence in the company's commitment to protect people's privacy. Though the AOL data contained no names - linking "anonymous" ID numbers to search terms - news media outlets and bloggers made a point to show how quickly such anonymity could be overcome by tracking down some AOL users based solely on clues from their search queries.

In this case AOL was the culprit, but all major search engines keep similar search records that could be exploited if made public - whether by accident or government order.

Privacy online, we are once again reminded, is never guaranteed. But new defenses pop up every day.

Inspired by AOL's unseemly data dump, a blogger named Nemanja wrote a computer script last week to help people protect their identities when using search engines. The script scrambles any attempts by Google, Yahoo or MSN to keep track of your searches by running queries through an anonymous proxy - essentially making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a search engine to link a query to a specific computer user.

To take advantage of the script you'll need to be running the Firefox Web browser with the Greasemonkey plugin installed. Instructions can be found on Nemanja's blog: blog.nemik.net.

Google might not want you to Google, and Yahoo might not care if you Yahoo, but neither will know if you run this script.

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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