Search Engines, Personal Information and the Problem of Privacy in Public


  • Herman T Tavani



The purpose of this paper is to show how certain uses of search-engine technology raise concerns for personal privacy. In particular, we examine some privacy implications involving the use of search engines to acquire information about persons. We consider both a hypothetical scenario and an actual case in which one or more search engines are used to find information about an individual. In analyzing these two cases, we note that both illustrate an existing problem that has been exacerbated by the use of search engines and the Internet – viz., the problem of articulating key distinctions involving the public vs. private aspects of personal information. We then draw a distinction between “public personal information” (or PPI) and “nonpublic personal information” (or NPI) to see how this scheme can be applied to a problem of protecting some forms of personal information that are now easily manipulated by computers and search engines – a concern that, following Helen Nissenbaum (1998, 2004), we describe as the problem of privacy in public.




How to Cite

Tavani, Herman T. 2005. “Search Engines, Personal Information and the Problem of Privacy in Public”. The International Review of Information Ethics 3 (June). Edmonton, Canada:39-45.