According to Yahoo Search Trends, searches for Osama bin Laden jumped nearly 100 percent Sunday May 1, making him the most-searched-for person of the day—perhaps unsurprising given high-profile news that the al Qaeda leader had been killed by U.S. forced in Pakistan. However, in a somewhat creepy move, Yahoo has extrapolated this search activity to pronounce that teens don’t know who Osama bin Laden is, declaring that about 20 percent of all searches for “osama bin laden” were made by teenagers, and a full quarter of those searches were made by people under the age of 24, and two-thirds of all searches for “who is osama bin laden” were from users aged 13 to 17.
Yahoo breaks these figures down further, noting a full third of the searches for “how did osama bin laden die” on Sunday were made by Internet users aged 13 to 17, and a full 40 percent of searches for “who killed osama bin laden” were from users aged 13 to 20. Yahoo notes this is a generation that is largely growing up during the United States’ war on terrorism.
Yahoo says it gets figures like these by sifting “through billions of Yahoo searches to uncover trends, burning questions, popular personalities, and hot ideas,” and pats itself on the back for being able to spot trends, make projects, and offer “big-picture” analysis. The company doesn’t offer any more specific information about how it obtains its demographic data, but a good deal of Yahoo’s correlation comes from matching up specific queries with profile information of registered Yahoo users: if you have a Yahoo account and are logged in to Yahoo when you perform a search, that query information gets associated with your account data, including age, location, devices, services used, and more. Yahoo may also perform profile-based matching of queries to users based on activities, sites visited, and other analytics information gathered behind the scenes by Yahoo and (potentially) advertisers and partners like Microsoft.
These practices are not unique to Yahoo—other search operators like Google, Microsoft, AOL, and others operate in a similar manner. The companies use the demographic and search information they collect to sell search advertising as well as personalize services to match users’ interests and location. However, Yahoo’s gleeful pronouncements underline that, along with everyone else, Yahoo is tracking kids’s online activity. Yahoo recently announced it was extending its window for retaining search data from 90 days to 18 months.
Yahoo also notes 35 percent of searches Sunday for “conspiracy theories” were from teenagers aged 13 to 17. Perhaps there were a few parents in the other 65 percent.