Chennai Spy

Monday, May 15, 2006

Bottotmline - Who seeks what on Google?

Google lifted the veil last week on one of its best-kept secrets: which nations search for what. Who looks up democracy most avidly? Who seeks out Allah or Christ most faithfully? Who types in “drugs” or “sex” most frequently?

No country’s secrets are spared. Pakistanis look up “Danish cartoons” more avidly than anyone, according to Google. They also lead the rankings for “sex” — with India seldom far behind.

“In Pakistani society, sex is a taboo,” said Fatima Idrees, a project manager at the Pakistani affiliate of the Gallup International polling agency, adding that “curiosity and availability of the Internet may cause such behaviour.”

The site introduced on Thursday, Google Trends, measures how often particular phrases are searched for from computers in individual countries and cities. It shortlists the places with the highest absolute number of searches for, say, “cat food.”

Then it picks the top 10 or so based on which places look up “cat food” much more than they do other things — for instance, “dog food.” The Google Trends site is likely to generate a mix of consternation, embarrassment and laughter around the world.

While Google emphasises that its efforts to protect individuals’ privacy, the new site does nothing to protect the collective privacy of nations, if such a thing exists — the right of the British to conceal that they look up “handcuffs” most often, or the right of China’s leaders to hide that Mandarin ranks second only to English as the language used to look up “democracy,” or the right of other officials to hide that Arabic-speaking users rarely look up “democracy.”

“This is a fascinating project, effortlessly offering a glimpse into regional and cultural habits and differences that is otherwise nearly impossible to reproduce,” said Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University.


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