A new empirical research paper I have coauthored with Catherine Tucker of MIT-Sloan examines the question of how Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations have shifted the way people search for information on the Internet. We look at Google searches in the US and its top ten trading partners during 2013. We identify a roughly 5% drop in search volume on privacy-sensitive terms. In the US, UK and Canada, the countries in our data who were most involved with the surveillance controversy, search volume fell for search terms likely to get you in trouble with the government (“pipe bomb”, “anthrax” etc.), and for searches that were personally sensitive (“viagra”, “gender reassignment”, etc.). In France and Saudi Arabia, search volume fell only for the government-sensitive search terms. This paper, though at an early stage, provides the first systematic empirical evidence of a chilling effect on people’s search behaviors that is attributable to increased awareness of government surveillance. I will be presenting this paper at the Privacy Law Scholars’ Conference in DC in June, 2014. I would welcome comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As if yesterday’s explosive revelations about NSA’s ongoing interception of all of Americans’ phone calls weren’t enough, yesterday evening another top secret document was released (see here for screenshots), documenting for the first time that NSA had persuaded every major tech company with the exception (so far) of Twitter to allow them real-time access to their central data servers, and therefore to the private content of communications of the vast majority of Americans. It started in 2007 with Microsoft (surprise, surprise), and most recently enlisted Apple in 2012.
(Oh, it includes AOL too? Well, that’s thoughtful. Maybe they wanted to address the criticism that they weren’t focusing enough on the threat from the remote backwoods?)
So let’s take you through the PRISM scandal, and why it means that you should really shift your communications and company documents to being hosted outside of the US.