Microsoft Didn’t Give User Data to DOJ in Privacy Case (podcast)

First, the podcast: Microsoft, Google, and the DOJ Privacy Case (7.21 MB mp3 )

During a meeting today at the Microsoft Search Champs Conference in Redmond, WA, Yusuf Mehdi, Senior VP of MSN Information Services, discussed the recent blowup involving the U.S. Government’s subpoena of personal information from major Search Engines including MSN, Yahoo, Google, and AOL. This was not the first time that the U.S. Government has requested information from corporations in this manner. It was, however, one of the most talked about, spurred on by a press release from Google, who announced that they had turned down the request. Soon after, it was revealed that both Yahoo and MSN has complied with it, casting an instant shadow over those companies. In response, Ken Moss, general manager of MSN web search, provided a few relevant details of the case on the MSN Search Blog.

First, the podcast: Microsoft, Google, and the DOJ Privacy Case (7.21 MB mp3 )

During a meeting today at the Microsoft Search Champs Conference in Redmond, WA, Yusuf Mehdi, Senior VP of MSN Information Services, discussed the recent blowup involving the U.S. Government’s subpoena of personal information from major Search Engines including MSN, Yahoo, Google, and AOL. This was not the first time that the U.S. Government has requested information from corporations in this manner. It was, however, one of the most talked about, spurred on by a press release from Google, who announced that they had turned down the request. Soon after, it was revealed that both Yahoo and MSN has complied with it, casting an instant shadow over those companies. In response, Ken Moss, general manager of MSN web search, provided a few relevant details of the case on the MSN Search Blog.

Today, Mehdi added some detail concerning what actually happened when the request from the Government was made. First, the Government had asked for information that could identify people on an individual basis (most likely, an IP address). Microsoft declined this request, and instead handed the Government a watered down version of data, which Mehdi made clear did not include personal information. The information provided by Microsoft, Mehdi said, consisted only of a sample of search terms and their frequency, as well as a random sample of pages in the MSN Search Index.

Update: Ramez Naam, Group Program Manager, MSN Search, sends along a clarification: the DOJ didn’t ask for personal information specifically, they simply asked for logs.

This was a very hot topic the entire day today at the Conference. Not only are there differing viewpoints about what Search companies should and should not do, but the very relevance of data was in question. Is this a non-issue given that Microsoft didn’t hand over personal information? Did Microsoft make an error in giving in to the Government? What information did they actually give? Given that the Government has final say, does any of the MSN posturing matter? And finally, does the average Joe really care about all this?

To help answer these questions, a few members of the Search Champs crowd gathered tonight to record a podcast. The podcast members were:

Update: Additional Coverage:
Alex Barnett (Photos)
Thomas Vander Wal
Dion Hinchcliffe
Fred Oliviera

And Robert Scoble has a writeup of the meeting: Search Champs Grilling MSN execs

Published: January 26th, 2006

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