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NSA Domestic Spying Revelations Have Chilling Affect On Web Searches: Use of Search Terms Considered 'Embarrassing' or 'Incriminating' Went Down Signficantly - Study

J. Edgar Hoover, when he was director of the FBI, once said he wanted activists to
feel "like there was an FBI agent behind every mailbox." Was that the hidden agenda
behind revelations of NSA's mass spying on citizens? (Illustration by Ronald DavidJackson -
Adapted from Photos by ieshraq and Alexi Kostibas)

The study, Government Surveillance and Internet Search Behavior, was authored by Alex Marthews of Restore The Fourth (Cambridge, MA) and Catherine Tucker of the MIT Sloan School of Management (Cambridge, MA) and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The study used data from Google Trends on search terms from before and after the surveillance revelations of June 2013 to analyze whether Google users’ search behavior shifted as a result of an exogenous shock in information about how closely their internet searches were being monitored by the U. S. government. Data from Google Trends on search volume for 282 search terms across eleven different countries was used. These search terms were independently rated for their degree of privacy-sensitivity along multiple dimensions.

Using panel data, the results suggest that cross-nationally, users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the U. S. government. In the U. S., this was the main subset of search terms that were affected. However, internationally there was also a drop in traffic for search terms that were rated as personally sensitive or embarrassing.

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Search Terms and Sensitivity Ratings:

DHS Search Terms Pt 1

DHS Search Terms Pt 2

Embarrassing Search Terms Pt 1

Embarrassing Search Terms Pt 2

Google Search Terms

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