Thursday, December 13, 2007 Puts a Bet on Privacy

It appears consumers are going to have an option now for greater privacy when searching the web. The fourth largest search engine company has begun offering a service called AskEraser, which allows users to make their searches more private.

The small company (compared to Google or Yahoo that is) from Oakland California is hoping that this new technology will help give them a leg up on the competition. Let us hope so.

The New York Times reports: and other major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft typically keep track of search terms typed by users and link them to a computer’s Internet address, and sometimes to the user. However, when AskEraser is turned on, discards all that information, the company said.


The service will be conspicuously displayed on’s main search page, as well as on the pages of the company’s specialized services for finding videos, images, news and blogs. Unlike typical online privacy controls that can be difficult for average users to find or modify, people will be able to turn AskEraser on or off with a single click.


I think that it is a step forward,” said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, about AskEraser. “It is the first time that a large company is giving individuals choices that are so transparent.”

But underscoring how difficult it is to completely erase one’s digital footprints, the information typed by users of AskEraser into will not disappear completely. relies on Google to deliver many of the ads that appear next to its search results. Under an agreement between the two companies, will continue to pass query information on to Google. Mr. Leeds acknowledged that AskEraser cannot promise complete anonymity, but said it would greatly increase privacy protections for users who want them, as Google is contractually constrained in what it can do with that information.


Last year, AOL released the queries conducted by more than 650,000 Americans over three months to foster academic research. While the queries where associated only with a number, rather than a computer’s address, reporters for The New York Times and others were quickly able to identify some of the people who had done the queries. The queries released by AOL included searches for deeply private things like “depression and medical leave” and “fear that spouse contemplating cheating.”

The incident heightened concerns about the risks posed by the systematic collection of growing amounts of data about people’s online activities. In response, search companies have sought to reassure consumers that they are serious about privacy.


In recent months, privacy has emerged as an increasingly important issue affecting major Internet companies. Several consumer advocacy groups, legislators and competitors, for instance, have expressed concerns about the privacy implications of the proposed $3.1 billion merger between Google and the ad serving company DoubleClick, which is being reviewed by regulators in the United States and Europe.

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission held a forum to discuss concerns over online ads that appear based on a user’s Web visits. And just last week, the popular social networking site Facebook suffered an embarrassing setback when it was forced to rein in an advertising plan that would have informed users of their friends’ buying activities on the Web. After more than 50,000 of its members objected, the company apologized and said it would allow users to turn off the feature.

The question remains - and perhaps will be answered to a degree with the offering of this new product - whether privacy is a strong enough concern among consumers to turn a feature like AskEraser into a major selling point for Click here for the article in its entirety.

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