Search Engines Filling In Forms

At least, Google is. Yes, Google now has the capability to enter your site and when it comes across an HTML form, attempt to fill it in – what is not clear is what type of forms.

Andy Beal from Marketing Pilgrim points out in his article, Google is Cracking the “Invisible Web”:

This is exciting for many webmasters as it means the information that you may be creating dynamically, through the use of a database and html form, may not be left in the dark long.

If they are filling in ’search’ forms then I don’t really have a problem. Do a site search and check the results. If there are links and pages worth noting then it can only be good for the web site owner. It would help if Google clarified exactly what type of forms they are filling in. I don’t want subscription forms filled and my data base filled with useless entries – I am sure you don’t either. Google Webmaster Central Blog does nothing to clarify exactly what they doing. The following quote comes closest to some type of description:

Having chosen the values for each input, we generate and then try to crawl URLs that correspond to a possible query a user may have made. If we ascertain that the web page resulting from our query is valid, interesting, and includes content not in our index, we may include it in our index much as we would include any other web page.

I wonder whether or not data could be pulled back from any data bases attached to the forms. If this is case, data security could become a big issue. Google certainly has not right to any data entered into web site databases. More importantly, what disclosures will you now have to make prior to getting a visitor to fill in a form.

It is time I think to for all web sites to sit down and review their data security and the forms used to collect that data. At the very least I would suggest that any forms you don’t want searched get tagged with the ‘no index’ and perhaps ‘no follow’ tags.

The biggest concern is that Google has been doing this for several months now without the knowledge of any webmasters. Search engines provide a valuable service and as web site owners we would not exist without them. However, the line needs to be drawn somewhere.

What else are Google or any of the other search engines doing that we have no knowledge of. A web site may be in the public domain, however what goes on in the background is not. It may be time for search engines to notify website owners before they start infringing on non public areas. Whilst search engines seem to think they are Gods and do virtually what they want, the truth is, they walk a very thin line when it comes to breaching individual rights and privacy.

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