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Ask.com introduces anonymous-ish searching

Ask.com introduces anonymous-ish searching

Ask.com - now offers more Privacy for online searches

We reported earlier this year that it was coming and now it's finally here, Ask.com, one of those search engines people used to use in the early days of the web before we Googled everything instead, has announced the introduction of the Ask.com Eraser. By toggling an option in the control panel it is now possible to have all logs concerning your searches purged after about four hours.

Most search engines, including Ask.com without the Eraser enabled, keep data on what IP addresses have searched for what terms and where they eventually ended up for anything up to 18 months at a time. Such data is considered valuable for determining whether advertising is working, and... Well, mostly just the advertising thing.

Oh, and sometimes serious-looking men in cheap suits come along and demand copies using phrases like “in the interests of National Security” (I swear, you can hear the Capital Letters).

The introduction of Ask.com Eraser has been welcomed by privacy advocates, and is certainly more impressive than any other major search engine available today. Before you cheer too loudly, though, it's worth pointing out that the search engine is only one of the places where detailed logs regarding what you've done online are kept: your ISP may well keep logs if it runs a transparent proxy, and the page you finally ended up at will certainly keep a log of how you got there and what you did while on the site.

Even with the new Eraser feature, Google (everyone's favourite data warehouse, NSA shadow-op, and advertising broker) is likely to see everything you search for whether you use their engine or not: Google provides Ask (and many other websites and search engines) with context-sensitive advertising. This means that even if you do all your searches on Ask.com with the Eraser enabled, Google can still see who you are and what you searched for; and the Eraser doesn't cover the data held by third-party companies.

While anything that improves privacy online is to be applauded, it's hard to see this as anything more than a marketing gimmick from a search engine provider with a tiny share of the market – only five percent of searches worldwide go through the Ask.com engine.

Tempted to switch away from the Googleopoly to gain a little privacy? Let us know via the forums.

9 Comments

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Delphium 12th December 2007, 14:29 Quote
*waits for google to follow suite.
RTT 12th December 2007, 14:30 Quote
I guess this will allow them to deny that people only use Ask to "Ask" for Google...? :D
quack 12th December 2007, 15:03 Quote
Meh, I don't use Ask, and I don't actually mind Google saving my searches - Web History can be very handy if I need to refer back to something I've looked for.

I just looked at my Web History and saw "Total Google searches: 10400". :o
g3n3tiX 12th December 2007, 15:57 Quote
The problem with google is that if you leave your gmail account logged in, they tie all you searches to your email. And they know (through youtube) what you watch. and even if I logout, as I have a fixed ip adress, they still know.
Only good thing is that we are 2 using the connection, so it may be either me or my brother doing those searches...^^
PrometheusCon 12th December 2007, 16:53 Quote
They 'exhausted' their 'limited supply'. No free software anymore. FTL
quack 12th December 2007, 17:11 Quote
^ Wrong thread.
Buzzons 12th December 2007, 18:46 Quote
Tor. that is all
The_Beast 13th December 2007, 00:00 Quote
I don't like the fact that Google is tracking my searchs but I'll deal with it
Drewvt 23rd December 2007, 15:22 Quote
You don't have to wait. There is a lot you can do to increase your level of anonymity.

Tor and other anonymous proxies are great, but they do slow things down a lot.

The Firefox extension Trackmenot generates "noise" for all the big search engines; from a list of keywords (dynamic and changing, not fixed) it sends queries that mimic real query patterns but are meant to confuse the engine, so that the likes of Google have greater difficulty to build up a consistent profile about you.

Another Firefox extension, Customizegoogle, contains optional privacy features that alter the Google cookie, again with the object of giving you a bit more anonymity.

Dynamic IP addresses are indeed a good thing.

None of these tools are very powerful, in their own right (that's the reason no search engine has tried to ban them - not yet). But when combined, they add several thin layers of anonymity. Like an onion of moderate privacy protection.
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