Tricia Holly Davis – Don’t be such a smart…

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt recently outlined the web giant’s plans to employ its users’ personal data to create a smart search engine, which could advise people on things like what jobs they are best suited for and how to spend their leisure time.

If Google’s plans come to fruition, you will be able to ask it questions such as “What should I do this weekend?” and Google will list a number of options based on your personal search history.

Such smart search capabilities would translate into huge advertising opportunities, enabling Google to demand premium rates for personalised ads. Google says its objective is to provide its users with the most relevant search results, so if you are searching for Paris and Google knows that your prior searches were for the Eiffel Tower, it will return results for Paris the city, rather than the jailbird hotel heiress. 

While Google’s objective may be a sound one, doesn’t it fly in the face of the most fundamental concept of the online travel industry? Searching for travel on the web and discovering new destinations and attractions is part of the overall experience.

Google will tell you that such smart capabilities would make the search process better, but I ask Google: Won’t it also limit my results? What if my personal search history prompts Google to deliver results about city breaks, when what I really want is to go shark diving?

I know it’s more complex than that and I’m sure Google has an answer for just about every objection it faces.

Admittedly, fruitless searches are a huge annoyance and the idea of cutting down search time and getting relevant results is a great concept. However, even the slightest possibility I would need to trade the wonderful freedom of the web for an expedient search disagrees with me. 

Of course, Google will point out that you don’t need to make that choice. Google personalised search, launched two years ago, asks users if it can store their web history, which is then used to create personalised search results. Okay, but what if other Google developments make opting out of personalised search a near impossibility?

It’s been said by some that Google’s plans are downright Orwellian. The thing is (and I never thought I’d write this), I would prefer it if the Government would stick to the role of Big Brother – better the devil you know… – and the Googles of the world stick to old-fashioned search.

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