Ask.com introduces anonymous-ish searching

December 12, 2007 // 1:10 p.m.

Tags: #ask #google #privacy #search

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.
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