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Google data goes missing

Google glitch loses user data, By Dan Goodin, The Register 26th April 2007.

Google users found that “settings and data they’ve amassed over months have suddenly gone missing from their personalized homepage.”

Although this story doesn’t directly pertain to government information it has a lesson for us.

While the loss of individual preferences is hard on the individual, it is not the same as losing public information that we want accessible forever.

We hope that Google will be able to restore these user preferences, but the lesson here should not escape us:

Over the years, the many free services offered by Google and its competitors have become indispensable to many of us, but they also bring to mind the old adage that we get what we pay for. And Google’s personalized homepage isn’t the only such service to show signs of untrustworthiness….

As libraries (and government agencies) increasingly rely on Google to provide essential access to government information (e.g., Google to index government deep web? and Google begins to offer full-text scanned government documents and Agencies are working with Google to boost rankings and increase traffic and Cabbage Statistics, a microcosm of our selection decisions?), we should all be asking ourselves if this is an adequate infrastructure for permanent access. Every time we think “I don’t have to [index, catalog, fill-in-the-blank-service] because Google will…” we should ask ourselves what we’ll do if Google doesn’t, or fails, or changes it’s services.

If we do more (e.g., Cabbage statistics and google bombs), we will at least be able to use our own systems and Google and its competitors and its successors.

An even more important question is, do we know what google does and how it does it? What do they index and how do they rank? What gets ranked high and what gets ranked low? How deeply do they index a given web site? Are these the same decisions that we would make? Have they changed what they do since last week? Are they the right decisions for our users? Does there need to be an alternative that we control and can explain to our users and thus better help them?

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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