back to article Google: Let us keep search data or die

Google's lobbying to avoid restrictions on its ability to retain search data took a rather sinister turn this week, with co-founder Larry Page claiming such moves mean the "more likely we all are to die". Privacy advisers to the European Commission have suggested that search data should be wiped after six months. But if you …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    why we would perish...

    I heard it was because if the Whalesong or the Joss Stick servers do not get to keep data indefinitely then a piece of code written to enact a skynet scenario is enabled, this is why we would all die, they have eluded to the truth for once a thinly veiled threat, this is the dark side of the marketing department you do not hear about, they distract you with convoluted ad campaigns and offers, when you get close they change logo's and mission statements to throw you off the scent.

    Posted anon for obvious reasons

  2. Hollerith

    Oh no!!

    If we can't keep these data forever, this puppy will die!!!

  3. Eddie Edwards
    Thumb Down

    "May" being the operative word

    "Google Flu Trends may provide an early-warning system for outbreaks of influenza."

    "May" being the operative word. It's not designed to do so. No-one can rely on it to do so.

    Google Flu Trends is an experiment, not a service. It's just a wild guess based on circumstantial evidence. The WHO is still going to rely on actual health data.

    To go from this to "people will die if we can't do it" is ludicrous.

    OTOH, long term, there may be some public benefit from mining search data. If this is the case, the data should be available to all in a public anonymized database, not owned by Google as a side-effect of their advertising monopoly.

    "Which raises a question: if the point of using web searches to track disease is that the data is instantly available, how does data that is more than six months old help, let alone make us all less likely to die?"

    If you suspend disbelief about the whole idea of Google Flu Trends, this is easy to answer. Suppose Google has got some formula that translates search terms into flu pandemics, but it's not 100% perfect. By analyzing historical data against actual pandemics they can tune it. This probably requires going back more than 6 months.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    He should have picked something more believeable...

    ... like "If we delete our data the Earth will start to rotate in the wrong direction" or "If we delete our data we won't be able to cure cancer and AIDS with it".

  5. Simon Neill


    Surely the ammount of searches over an issue relates to public awareness of an issue not actual incidence of an issue. E.g. swine flu, I bet half the country has tapped "swine flu" into google. It has no relation to the number of us that actually have it.

  6. Aaron

    We'll all die, eh?

    Better dead than red, blue, yellow, and green.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Six Months

    "But, according to Page, without more than six months' back data, this will be impossible. "

    Oh go on then - they can have seven months.

  8. Chris King

    There was a time before Google...

    ...when people got the flu and lived to tell the tale. Google needs to realise they go round the sun, not the other way around.

    Anyway, their analyses will probably be tainted with all the "OMG SWINE FLU" nonsense coming out of Short Attention Span 2.0 sites.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Me oh my

    Do you now see what happens when a spotty grad student writes and algorithm and then gets VC startup cash.

    This do no evil approach is moving into mother Teresa territory. I vote for the cannonisation of Google.

    As with the politicians we only have ourselves to blame that people like these get any airtime.

  10. nicholas22
    Thumb Up

    "Do No Evil"

    This and other such incidents will keep cropping up, until people realise that Google is just another company and not the darlings they're pretending to be...


  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How did we all manage to live so lomg before Google then.?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Reading BOFH?

    WTF, are Google having a Giggle, have they been reading BOFH’s book of excuses.... These dickheads are beginning to believe their own propaganda.

    And to think we used to call Microsoft the evil empire.

    Paris, our resident expert in dickheads

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Midas Touched

    When Google first left the lab, or, Standford dorm, I was virtually standing online to set it up on a free software Windows/Linux programmers' site I then ran out of a UK based provider. Slashdot, and, if memory serves, even el Reg, touted Google as an alternative to other ,then, less attractive search engines. Google as a sociopath entity makes Shakespeare's King Lear look reasonable and benign. I envision the two Google founders deep in delusion seeing the Universe as a computer and all and everything as information. Their touch turns all matter into information and they can reach out and touch all information. How terribly, horribly sad. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." I wonder if they ever catch a glimpse of how preposterous their values and goals are?

  14. Big Bear

    It will be useful

    In tracking the spread of public attention as to any kind of spread of any news. I'm surprised that companies are not being sold this data by Google to track brand and product awareness.

    Bugger all to do with disease though.

    Also, despite Google's monopoly, you'd have to include other search engines like Wolfy if it was to be a serious world-saving thing!!!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    One gets the feeling that the big G is searching for one excuse after another to justify their data retention, like a naked man clutching at leaves to cover his funbag. As each is shown to be transparent and insubstantial, they clutch onto another...

    Even in their own backslapping BS this month about how they 'might' have seen swine flu trends in Mexico, they admitted that it's not been independently audited or modelled, and at best they're using 20:20 hindsight to stick their numbers over the flu outbreak and saying "see, we showed it!!"

    Plus of course, search trends will generally reflect hype rather than fact - people will search for flu-related terms as a result of hearing about it, so it's rather hard to gauge the scale of any outbreak.

  16. Brian Miller

    Contracting disease != interest in disease

    Apparently Google equates being interested in something means that you actually have it. Therefore, since I am interested in owning my own pet Terminator, that means that I actually have one.

    "Do no evil." Right.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Simon Neill

    Exactly, and I would also venture that the vast majority of the people who've typed 'c*nt' into Google don't have one of those either.

  18. Ian Bradshaw

    So what?

    All this keeping data stuff ...

    a) If you don't want them to keep it then use a different search engine or create your own. Noone forces anyone to use google.

    b) It would be quite simple for all data capture people to anonymise data to e.g. city level based on geoip if they wanted to.

    'b' won't happen as it hurts their business, and why should it? There a commercial company, just because there better at it than anyone else doesn't mean they should be punnished (same goes for MS, Intel, etc etc).

    So, you don't like it? Go do something about it. Just tap in, or whatever; or go create your own search engine thats better, dont keep the data.

    As for us all being dead if they don't keep the data, thats just to confuse the issue, the real issue is wether people should be punnised for creating a better service / product than anyone else.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Google is not just another company. It is the new Microsoft.

    The picture of Page that accompanied the Beeb article instantly made me think of Rob Lowe in 'Wayne's World'.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Dude's fucking insane...

    Google are a search engine or at least they used to be.

    Retaining data for a couple of days at most should be sufficient. Why in the blue fuck do they feel the need to retain it for half a year? What possible analysis or metric could they derive from it after keeping it that length of time?

    I get the feeling that the more they cry about sensible data retention polices being enforced on them (and the more they come up with insane-sounding bollocks like this) then the more likely it is people will start to see them for what they're rapidly becoming.

    "We don't *want* to be evil so that makes it OK"

    Mines' the one with the faded Alta Vista logo.

  21. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    OMG!!! W3'R3 4LL G01NG T0 D13

    I suggest we all Google "Ebola" from around the world and scare them shitless.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google knows nothing about medicine...

    "First, do no harm" if I paraphrase Hippocrates correctly.

    Google seems to be operating from the reverse standpoint.

  23. Fluffykins Silver badge

    @ Simon Neill

    Everyone: tap in a search for "Paris Hilton" - do it NOW!!!

    By Google's definition, we'll all have had her

  24. Anonymous Coward

    We all die...

    ... and keeping or not keeping data will not change that.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    12 month or longer disease cycle

    In answer to the question posed by the article - why more than 6 months? This is due to the fact outbreaks like this work in cycles and an outbreak may come back the following year due to infections in the previous 'cycle'. So you would need 12 months of more data.

    However the idea that you could track a specific type of flu from web search trends is still ludicrous.

  26. RW

    @ Hollerith

    ITYM "If we can't keep these data forever, we will bite the head off this kitten."

    Even if this Google-BS is true, tracking an epidemic doesn't necessarily lead to effective control of it.

    I wonder if Google realize just how silly they look? Why is it that large corporations (just like political parties) won't tell the simple truth? Why do they let the marketing departments con them into spewing out lies and spin instead of truth?

    What somebody in Google needs to do is take a hard look at the cost of running their lies and spin .... ooops, make that "marketing" .... department and ask difficult questions about the benefits that ensue.

  27. Paul


    So looking up a disease or disorder means I've got it, does it?

    If this model were accurate, I'm sure we could look forward to them charging whatever they liked prior to supplying this information to authorities. that's what they're there for, after all, the bastards. One thing I am heartily, heartily sick of is US imperialism via corporate growth. Facebook, Google etc, I am British, and therefore None Of Your Business! (Wish this were true.)

  28. N

    Dont make me laugh

    How fucking ridiculous is that,

    Theyre just using the statement to try and gain a bit of leverage

    what utter bollox

  29. Stevie


    How do hundreds of thousands of "[insert your favourite media darling] +nekkid" entries per month track swine flu?

  30. Lottie


    I was at a music festival last year and one of the performers stated that Bob dylan had died. Most folk googled it when they got home.

    I guess we can use the results to see how many times O'l mr. Zimmerman died.

    Seriously though, how can googling for information on a disease possibly equate to having it?

    Unless the search terms used are "I have swine flu. what now?"

    Unless you let us have our own way, EVERYONE WILL DIE. Must remember to use that sometime.

  31. Francis Fish

    Department of the bleedin' obvious says:

    We're all going to die

    Yeah, right.

  32. Anonymous Coward


    In googleverse everyone will be tagged with GPS and their movements tracked. Therefore once you have been in proximitiy to a number of potential infection vectors that places you with a standard deviation of a lognormal mean of 50% infection rates then Google will automatically wipe your facebook account and advise all citizens to shoot you on site, cook the remains and feed them to the penguins. Do no evil my @&$!

    Note: If you are less than six months old Google will declare that you don't exist, other than as a jpeg to be used as evidence.

  33. Vincent Ballard

    Free choice?

    Ian Bradshaw, your point a) is only true if you have in your hosts file or otherwise blocked. The vast majority of people don't know what a hosts file is, and probably aren't aware that Google can collect large amounts of data on them without them once using its search engine.

  34. phil
    Thumb Down

    laughed, i almost fell off my donkey

    Google, google, google, how its all going so wrong.

    World domination is one thing but the more i hear of the 'darlings' of the internet the more i wonder who exactly supports them and why?

    Most people in the know realise Google is of course as stated before a giant company who simply want to make money, the fact we seem to have all taken the 'Do no evil' motto, hook, line and sinker is our own fault.

    Google is the new scientology, those who believe and those who are simply baffled.

  35. regadpellagru

    @Dude's fucking insane...

    I'm with Will on this one.

    What kind of pills did Page forget to take to say that amount of gibberish ?

    Oh wait, is it because someone has already expired search queries and Page got some very serious form of Alzheimer ?

  36. NoCo37

    Come on then...

    Fess up, what happened last time El Reg went to the Zeitgeist conference?

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Flimsy excuse, or selective quote ?

    Whilst the excuse may be flimsy, or a selective quote,

    there's reasonable commercial logic behind retention greater than 6 months.


    The cost of trawling & indexing


    StreetView -

    Would it be reasonable to have to repeat the entire exercise every 6 months ?

  38. raving angry loony
    Black Helicopters


    What a tosser. Shoot the sucker and make Google toss search info within 48 hours. Fuck'em and their evil overlord ways.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google will save us! Will google save us?

    Based on the number of searches for "Swine Flu", every person on the planet has it. Many of us, twice.

    This explains the media frenzy much better then the numbers from the WHO, which show lighting strikes have killed more people so far this year then Swine Flu, everywhere except Mexico. (And the numbers are close, even there).

  40. Anonymous Coward

    So let me get this straight....

    An epidemic of a flu variant hits, it gets covered in the mass media, a certain amount of panic sets in, people start googling "swine flu" and that somehow aquaints to a statistically valid method of tracking the spread of the disease?

    That's ridiculous. If this reasoning was true, then I somehow missed seeing the herds of baby polar bears named "Knute" that must have been wandering the planet a couple years back.....

  41. weirdcult

    Google... the name for god in the lips and hearts of all children...or soon will be.

  42. Vision Aforethought

    @Midas Touched: Spot on

    Values, like fees, are cleverly promoted to hook people. IE, "Our service is free - for the first 6 months." Likewise, "We do no evil - until we have enough of you hooked." I have to say, as someone impressed with some of Google's technology, it amazed me how stupid they are when it comes to some issues and their failure to monotise some of their offerings, when it would be quite simple, then they would not need to use these outlandish 'threats' to obtain yet more of our personal data. For example, there are now advertisements at the base of some YouTube videos, so why isn't Google making money of that? And how about improving Google Docs - and making it so good, people will pay for it? And then Google can encrypt all our data so it's as secure as we dignified freedom loving humans like it.

  43. Pierre

    Ohmygawd it's FLU!

    Now that's a serious disease, may the mighty Google protect us all from the Sneezing Of Doom!

    It's not like malaria, AIDS, cancer, Ebola or any of these puny pseudo-diseases... as everyone knows, the only three diseases to be really afraid of are sugar-and-caffein-induced jumpiness (aka ADHD), obesity, and flu. All the other ones are benign and unimportant.

  44. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Bye, Google

    The implication that searching for a disease is having the disease is exactly why Google shouldn't be holding on to so much information.

  45. David Wilkinson
    Thumb Down

    you want access to old data ...

    From a data mining perspective ... they are right. You need historical data for the current data to make sense and you need raw historical data because you will be constantly refining your algorithms.

    However their claim that their search results give invaluable medical information is laughable.

    The data they are mining is useless. You might as well count the number of times the word flu is mentioned in news stories. Its just a huge echo chamber.

    They have a death grip on their customers private information because they think it can make them slightly more money than respecting people's basic rights.

    The whole .. .wouldn't it be great if you let companies spy on you in every way possible so you can get better ads is wearing a little thin.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Death and taxes...

    'Google's lobbying to avoid restrictions on its ability to retain search data took a rather sinister turn this week, with co-founder Larry Page claiming such moves mean the "more likely we all are to die".'

    Does this mean Google's found a way around dying? I thought we were all doomed to die in the end anyway. Should we be looking forward to a "Google Life" where we get to live forever in their search engine? Or are we stuck with living forever through their search engine...

  47. Bug


    Anything better than

  48. Nils Hormel

    Does anyone have an app that generates randomn queries for Google?

    Or a botnet we could use to the same effect?

  49. Michael C

    symantec differences

    You see, keeping the ACTUAL search queries and user tracking information is unnecessary once the data hasd been tabulated. We can keep a historical record of the trend analysis without actually having to keep the original inputs... That data is only valuable at the moment. We're not going to crawl that data later for reference once it;s been verified and validated.

  50. James O'Brien

    So what this means?

    Is if I go into my bosses office with a puppy and a hand gun and threaten to kill the puppy unless I get a pay raise, I will get that pay raise?

    As much as I like Googles search engine, I absolutely cant stand much else they offer.

    /Yes mines the one with the puppy and the S&W. Thanks.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    alt ?

    so anybody want to throw some alternative engines out there for us to try ?

  52. Anonymous Coward

    The spread of pig-cold is worse than we thought!

    If we go by Google's method, nearly the entire blogosphere is infected, and indeed infection appears to be centered around areas with good internet access and hypercondriacs!

    The only way to escape the porkopalypse will be to move somewhere with no decent broadband, like rurual Mexico.

    Oh wait....

  53. weirdcult

    Quick question

    Does Tesco own Google or is it the other way around?

  54. KayKay

    What are they measuring/thinking?

    Great idea, provided they can guarantee only people who HAVE the flu can search for it.

    I bet there were a lot fewer searches from Mexico, with several 100 confirmed cases, than there were from Australia (10 confirmed cases).

    There will always be more searches for anything from places with (a) more computers (b) better internet connections (c) more media hype and (d) more gullible people.

  55. Dan Sheppard

    And I thought you were so numerate!...

    "more likely we all are to die". To over 100%? The easiest way to do that: zombies!

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