A short while ago I wrote a couple of posts about the issues around Real time Search (How important is Real Time Search and Google and the Dead Past) – that is, Internet based searches that include Internet content that has been generated in the few minutes (or even less!) prior to the search. Those of us who’ve been around the Internet for long enough will remember the days when you could wait days or weeks for stuff to show up in a Google search; nowadays Tweets can turn up in search results almost immediately.
There are many reasons – most expressed in the two posts above – that I have for feeling rather uneasy about the whole idea of real time search, particularly around personal privacy. I think the main mistake I made when I wrote those two posts last year was to underestimate the speed with which things would move. Recent developments in geolocation based systems – that record the location from which a post is made – such as FourSquare and the geocoding side of Twitter have made it easy for Tweets and similar online posts to locate people in the real world. A particularly fine example of this phenomena is the suitably named ‘Please Rob Me’ – this site uses some clever coding to detect when people Tweet that they’re away from home.
The publication of ‘exploits’ for web browsers and other software could also become a hot topic. At the moment, a hacker may determine how to ‘poison’ a website with a specially manufactured piece of code that can infect an unprotected PC with a virus or Trojan Horse program. The hacker can then publicise the fact via various means, hoping that others will get the chance to use it before the manufacturer of the browser relaeses a ‘patch’ for the bug that the code exploits. Real time search could very much help hackers – by releasing details of an exploit, then linking to it from a few sites, then tweeting it, it’s quite possible that details of such exploits could be showing up in search results within minutes or hours of the exploit being identified. Unless the search results are sanitised in some way to prevent this happening – highly unlikely – then this will surely lead to decreasing online safety.
A related problem might be in the creation of online Pop-up Shops’ for ‘warez’ or other illegal content. For those who’ve never come across a ‘Pop-up Shop’ these are shops that take out a very short lease on a retail property – typically a month or so around Christmas or some other busy event that will guarantee good local footfall. They then sell cheap goods, Christmas cards, etc. and then shut up shop and disappear – whilst these shops are totally legit business, the Internet equivalents are frequently not. Given real time search, a suitably optimised ‘instant site’ with an arbitrary URL could be put on a server, show up in search engine indexes / Tweet indexes within the hour , make material available and be gone before the authorities even know it was there.
Real time search is here – faster and probably more effective than I feared. And it’s not going to be pretty.