BOSTON – Most Americans are uncomfortable with the fact that Internet search engines record their users' queries, according to a survey released Wednesday that examined perceptions about federal authorities' demands for such records.
Search engine companies recently sparked the debate by responding differently to the Justice Department's subpoena for records on what their users had been looking up.
Google Inc. refused to comply, citing privacy along with a desire to protect its trade secrets. But Yahoo Inc. and other rivals have handed over their data, which the government says will be useful in an online pornography crackdown.
Equally contentious, however, is whether the search engine providers even should be storing such records.
In the new survey of 800 Americans by the University of Connecticut, 60 percent said they opposed the storage of users' search queries. Just 32 percent supported the practice, which the companies say is necessary to improve the performance of their services.
Similarly, when asked whether the government should monitor the Internet search behavior of "ordinary Americans," 65 percent said no and 30 percent said yes.
Apparently, even some opponents of having these records stored and mined believe that the subpoena ought to be followed.
Some 44 percent of all respondents said the records should be turned over. Half sided with Google and said the files should remain secret.
The random survey was conducted by telephone from Jan. 31 through Feb. 5 and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.