June 24, 2008

How To Get Privacy Legislation [12:49 am]

Use search data to upset the right constituency. In the early days of the nuclear business, there was something called “tickling the dragon’s tail.” Google may have found that the right kind of subpoena can be a modern equivalent: What’s Obscene? Google Could Have an Answer

That is often a tricky question because there is no simple, concrete way to gauge a community’s tastes and values.

The Internet may be changing that. In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought.

In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.

Later: William Saletan’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Orgy: Sexual Hypocrisy and the Internet is interesting, but I think he unsteates the fact that, in the absence of good data, any data (or, for that matter, anything that merely looks like data) may be seized upon as meaningful - possibly the entire explanation for internet advertising, in fact.

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