Huygens colloquium at Radboud University Science Faculty.
Effective web search engines (and the commercial success of a few internet giants) depend upon the data collected from the online seeking behaviour of huge numbers of users. Put differently, the high quality search results we accept for granted every day come at the price of reduced privacy.
A personal search engine would not only search the web, but also rich personal data including email, browsing history, documents read and contents of the user’s home directory. Results with so-called "slow search" indicate that the user experience can be improved significantly when the search engine gains access to additional data. However, will we be prepared to give up even more of our privacy, and eventually be prepared to give up control over all that personal information?
My proposal is to mitigate these concerns by developing a new architecture for web search, in which users control the trade-off between search result quality and the privacy risk inherent to sharing usage logs. Under this design, all data of the “personal search engine” (PSE) (web and usage data) resides in its owner’s personal digital infrastructure.
Two challenges need to be overcome to turn this into a viable alternative. Can we compensate for the loss of information about searches of large numbers of users? And, can we maintain an up-to-date index in a cost-effective manner? As a solution, I propose to organise personal search engines in a decentralised social network. This serves two goals: the index can be kept up-to-date collaboratively, and usage data may be traded with peers.