On 15 July 2016 at 08:44, James Heilman <jmh...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Thanks for the in depth discussion. So if the terms people are using that
> result in "zero search results" are typically gibberish why do we care if
> 30% of our searches result in "zero search results"? A big deal was made
> about this a while ago.

Good question! I originally used to say that it was my aspiration that
users should never get zero results when searching Wikipedia. As a result
of Trey's analysis, I don't say that any more. ;-) There are many
legitimate cases where users should get zero results. However, there are
still tons of examples of where giving users zero results is incorrect;
"jurrasic world" was a prominent example of that.

It's still not quite right to say that *all* the terms that people use to
get zero results are gibberish. There is an extremely long tail
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_tail> of zero results queries that
aren't gibberish, it's just that the top 100 are dominated by gibberish.
This would mean we'd have to release many, many more than the top 100,
which significantly increases the risk of releasing personal information.

> If one was just to look at those search terms that more than 100 IPs
> searched for would that not remove the concerns about anonymity? One could
> also limit the length of the searches displaced to 50 characters. And just
> provide the first 100 with an initial human review to make sure we are not
> miss anything.

The problem with this is that there are still no guarantees. What if you
saw the search query "DF198671E"? You might not think anything of it, but I
would recognise it as an example of a national insurance number
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Insurance_number>, the British
equivalent of a social security number [1]. There's always going to be the
potential that we accidentally release something sensitive when we release
arbitrary user input, even if it's manually examined by humans.

So, in summary:

   - The top 100 zero results queries are dominated by gibberish.
   - There's a long tail of zero results queries, meaning we'd have to
   reduce many more than the top 100.
   - Manually examining the top zero results queries is not a foolproof way
   of eliminating personal data since it's arbitrary user input.

I'm happy to answer any questions. :-)


[1]: Don't panic, this example national insurance number is actually
invalid. ;-)

Dan Garry
Lead Product Manager, Discovery
Wikimedia Foundation
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