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Privacy Businesses The Almighty Buck The Internet

Will Privacy Sell? 82

DeeQ writes "Ask.com is betting that it will. The search engine is working on a service called AskEraser that will attempt to obscure the searches a user enters into the site. 'Some privacy experts doubt that concerns about privacy are significant enough to turn a feature like AskEraser into a major selling point for Ask.com. The search engine accounted for 4.7 percent of all searches conducted in the United States in October, according to comScore, which ranks Internet traffic. By comparison, Google accounted for 58.5 percent, Yahoo for 22.9 percent and Microsoft for 9.7 percent.'" We first discussed this project back in July.
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Will Privacy Sell?

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  • by syrinx ( 106469 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:51PM (#21658627) Homepage
    If I can't find what I'm looking for, I don't care if nobody knows about it.

    Heck, I can put up a search engine that I guarantee will not record anything you search for. Also, every result will be the "badger badger mushroom" song.
  • Sure (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:51PM (#21658629) Journal
    Sure it will. I was just reading Google News, and saw this story as the top Sci/Tech headline, and thought "Hey, I forgot about ask.com. Maybe I'll run a few searches through them and see how it goes."

    So whether or not the new privacy policy attracts people directly, the publicity will bring them hits for sure. Maybe even a few converts.

    Dan East
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jaseoldboss ( 650728 )
      "Hey, I forgot about ask.com. Maybe I'll run a few searches through them and see how it goes."

      You go ahead, I've blocked them from my entire network on account of their connection with MyWebSearch, SmileyCentral and other spyware.

      The only way to make your searches private is to do it yourself. Set the option "Accept Cookies from sites: Until I close Firefox". Then, don't forget about those Flash SOL cookies that all those video ads track you with - Add:

      RMDIR "%APPDATA%\Macromedia" /S /Q

      to a batch f

    • by vlk ( 775733 )
      Right, except... from TFA:

      But underscoring how difficult it is to completely erase ones digital footprints, the information typed by users of AskEraser into Ask.com will not disappear completely. Ask.com relies on Google to deliver many of the ads that appear next to its search results. Under an agreement between the two companies, Ask.com 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. A Google spokesman said the company uses the information to place relevant ads and to fight certain online scams.

  • Sure, it looks like an ordinary rock, but for the low, low price of $100, you can buy your own Privacy Invasion Repeller! This handy little thing will keep all search engines from recording your searches, prevent you from being stalked in public, and can even be used for tenderizing meat!

    I have just as much evidence that my Privacy Invasion Repeller works as Ask can produce for their so-called privacy protection, but mine covers every search engine ever made!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Shados ( 741919 )
      Thats probably patented already. Sorry buddy.
    • The advantage of your rock is that its hard to imagine a set of circumstances where it might sell my personal data to spammers. Or to turn it over to various data mining spooks. Or burn everyone's data to an unencrypted cd and "accidentally" mail it to the wrong address. Or go bust and have its data bought by a company not that declines to honour agreements made by Ask.com. Or just plain lie about its privacy policy.

      Not that I plan in investing in your scheme, either. But if I had to choose one, the roc

  • by RandoX ( 828285 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:54PM (#21658683)
    ...is a service that wipes my information out of Google. Get rid of my Tijuana pictures from Google Image Search.
    • > ...is a service that wipes my information out of Google.

      Well, what I really need is a service that gives me billions of dollars for sitting on my ass, makes me irresistable to lithe young women, ends world hunger and punches Bill O'Reilley in the face every six seconds.

      See? I can suggest lots of cool things if we disregard logic and common sense.
  • by schwaang ( 667808 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:54PM (#21658689)
    Because in most situations in life you can't apply market pressure in favor of privacy. Your data is being sold to data brokers like Choice Point and Axciom, and after that you don't know who looks at it, why, or when.
  • Privacy? No way. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by dippitydoo ( 1134915 )
    I'm not sure that anything could be private anymore. Sure, you use Ask.com to stay Private, while your ISP will probably allow the government to look at it anyways. Privacy? I see no privacy here, Move along.
    • I'm really hoping that if enough Americans show a similar interest in online privacy, that the policics and economics will work themselves out. remember, the judicial test to determine if an action can be considered private involves the person maintaining a reasonable opinion that the action is private, and whether society at large agrees that similar acts are reasonably considered private.

      If i use a web service specifically because it advertises privacy (even if thats not really the case; as long as I don
      • But it's not private.. your data is tracked all over the place, and capable of being tracked a lot more than it is - every router and switch your packets travel across is a possible logging point.

        You *never* have an expectaion of privacy on the web, unless you encrypt everything.. and even then you're trusting that the other end isn't going to sell your data anyway (probably true for a bank, but joe random internet site would sell it in a heartbeat).
        • You can't tell people that. if they know it, then they lose that right. I know, it's stupid, but that was exactly the argument the that the bush admin presented to the 6th circuit fed court, on the topic of online tracking. they argued that since many people work at places with tracking policies, so they no longer can expect it to be private.

          now me, I know that things are trackable, but I don't believe that it is impossible to obtain privacy in a crowd as it were. I try to keep my footprint as average as po
          • by CSMatt ( 1175471 )

            You can't tell people that. if they know it, then they lose that right.
            So in other words. people only lose rights if they believe that they no longer have them, but if they can be convinced that those rights haven't been taken away yet, then they do have them. I believe that's a textbook definition of deception.
            • yep. the supreme courts test is rather stupid, but lacking clear privacy regulations, the matter is subjective, and varies between people and circumstances. thus the only test is the belief of the person, and of society's agreement (or lack thereof).
  • I'll be watching this and hopefully it's going work as advertised.

  • by RandoX ( 828285 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:58PM (#21658775)
    Forget the delete cookies/history/temp files routine. Get Sandboxie [sandboxie.com].

    Not just for browsers either.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Odiumjunkie ( 926074 )
      > Forget the delete cookies/history/temp files routine. Get Sandboxie.

      That program isn't really relevent to what's being discussed here. Running programs in a sandbox or under a VM doesn't prevent Google storing data about you on their servers. The only relevent thing it might do is prevent persistant cookies between browsing sessions, but you're better off just blocking cookies from search engines in the first place. Sandboxing doesn't do anything to prevent Google storing your search terms tagged with
    • No linux version...
  • by Aram Fingal ( 576822 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @02:06PM (#21658915)
    I just tried it out and found that you have to accept cookies from ask.com for the askEraser feature to stick. That's not surprising but it seems that you have to give up one privacy measure to get another.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The cookie is reasonably innocuous, though.
      Name: askeraser
      Content: "Tue 11 Dec 2007 18:10:15 UTC"

      That date might be unique enough to track you, but on the other hand, it's unlikely to be more unique than your IP address, and you can probably write a script to randomize it within your cookies.txt every so often.

  • by natoochtoniket ( 763630 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @02:12PM (#21659047)

    There really is a good reason to offer an anonymous search tool. Anyone who uses it is automatically suspect. Doesn't matter what you used it for. The fact that you did use it, at all, makes you a suspect. If we can convince all of our domestic terrorists to register themselves by using this tool, we can solve the terrorism problem.

    Of course, in a perfect world, the crooked politicians will also use the same tool. It would take some serious effort to separate the politicians from the regular terrorists. But, just perhaps, we could solve both problems at once.


    • by CSMatt ( 1175471 )
      Or we could just go with the original assumption and say that all crooked politicians are terrorists.
  • They're the smallest player on the field right now of the "big" engines.

    This means to move up they have to differentiate themselves enough to get people to try them and hopefully stick with them. The only people who benefit from propagating "business as usual" are the googles/yahoos.
  • Simple solution: TOR (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spy der Mann ( 805235 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `todhsals.nnamredyps'> on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @02:17PM (#21659139) Homepage Journal
    As long as you're only searching the web and not clicking on the results, nobody will find out what YOU searched for if you used Onion routing like TOR.

    Now the hard stuff is making TOR work ONLY for Google and search sites.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Odiumjunkie ( 926074 )
      > Now the hard stuff is making TOR work ONLY for Google and search sites.

      No it's not. You can specify per-domain proxies with FoxyProxy, as I pointed out above [slashdot.org].
    • Well TOR and other proxy actually works, but they are not compliant with any kind of personalized search, so you have to make a choice...
      Furthermore, these solutions will be useless for Phone using android. If Google can get your queries at the OS level, proxy won't bring any kind of privacy.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Tor is not enough for multiple reasons. I have been working on a much detailed solution [yale.edu] that uses Tor but takes care of the issues on other levels too. It also addresses ONLY Google searches, so you can do your other Web browsing Tor-free.
    • What about the Google cookie?

      Assuming you've taken logical precautions about the content of your searches, for example not ego-surfing in the middle of the searches you wanted to keep private.
  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @02:19PM (#21659171)

    Because we should get privacy FOR FREE BY DEFAULT!

    • by Fastolfe ( 1470 )
      So it should be illegal for a business to disclose anything it learns about you to anyone else? What about your mere presence in the store? What about shielding your presence from other customers? How would you accomplish that? What if the store owner was a family member? Should it be illegal for them to tell another family member you were there? Should it be illegal for them to not invite you to their next party because of what they learned? What about selling something on Craigslist? Should it be
      • What you're talking about it quite a bit different than a lot of the problems that exist in the marketplace today. My biggest issue is with companies that buy and aggregate data about you and you have no choice as to what information they have on you and you can't get off their lists.

        Also, the government buys information from these companies as an affront to the supremely important legal barriers that are put in place to protect peoples privacy (Fourth Amendment). They can just simply say here's 100 bu
        • by Fastolfe ( 1470 )
          If you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, it's unreasonable to expect that it will be treated so. Why should company A be allowed to obtain non-private information from company B, but not the government? You do have a choice: don't do business with companies that aggregate (non-private!) data about you. I realize that your life may be difficult by exercising that choice, but you do have that option.

          You could change the problem somewhat, and start claiming that your shopping history is, lega
          • In general, I don't have a problem with individual companies collecting information on me*. But the big disconnect is that most/all sell or share this information with unknown third parties. These third parties may then sell that information to others and before you know it everyone who wants that information that was originally collected is now available upon request. There is no getting around this issue in our society unless you're willing to extricate yourself from society (live up in the mountains,
    • Option 0: Don't use a search engine, do get privacy. Privacy for free, by default.

      Option 1: In exchange for surrendering some privacy, you get to use a quality search engine only marginally annoying ads.

      Nothing is free. When a car dealership provides you with oil changes for life, the cost is built into the price. The only difference is what you perceive to be the baseline price (and, yes, the default). If you don't like the idea of being charged for privacy, think of it as not being paid for giving up yo

  • cake + eating it (Score:5, Informative)

    by spyrochaete ( 707033 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @02:19PM (#21659189) Homepage Journal
    If you're sufficiently annoyed at Google that you actually want to punish them for their query retention policy, I recommend the TrackMeNot [nyu.edu] Firefox extension by Daniel C. Howe, Helen Nissenbaum. It automatically submits a false query to Google x times per minute, obscuring your real queries within a torrent of crap.
    • I'm making a plug-in like TackMeNot called SquiggleSR (http://squigglesr.free.fr). In addition to issuing queries, it also clicks on results and ads. I think it points out a serious problem of the pay-per-click economical approach.

      Moreover I'm trying to make more coherent queries (using keywrods extracted from RSS flows). See the site for more details and do not hesitate to post comments.
      • I don't like the idea of automatically clicking ads. I manage some AdWords campaigns for my company and a single click costs us as much as $15. If you're prepared to foot the bill the go ahead and click all you like, but as is you risk costing a lot of money to a lot of small businesses.
        • Sorry, did'nt know average click price was that expensive. I knew some clicks were actually very expensive but (mesotholomia for instance), but I avoid them. Options is removed from the add-on anyway, now only click on non-commercial results are possible. But the point is that... well Google will now that when you click on ads, it's for real...
          Moreover, I wanted to point out that pay-per-click can't hold... 15$, how could that be that expensive. Other comments ?
          • Google's AdWords system is pretty interesting. Advertisers can choose the most they're willing to spend on a single click, and the most they're willing to spend per day and per campaign. Google shows the ads on search engine results pages (SERPs) as well as on related websites that use AdSense. Ads that are viewed but not clicked don't cost a penny, but ads that are clicked cost up to the amount specified per click.

            You don't necessarily pay as much as the maximum you specify. AdWords works like an au
      • I think it points out a serious problem of the pay-per-click economical approach.

        It's called "clickfraud", it's possibly illegal, certainly against the Google terms of service, and a well-known problem.
  • As I already mentioned, I'm developing a privacy enforcement plug-in which generates false queries (it's quite like TrackMeNot, but with more coherent and personalized queries see http://squigglesr.free.fr/ [squigglesr.free.fr] for details).

    As my plug-in click also on ads, it may cost money to Google since advertiser won't be happy to be charged for simulated click. So, if tomorrow Google asks you to pay the bill for your privacy, how much are you willing to pay?

    I'm not sure we'll agree to pay for all the services if they had
  • Just use the adaptive referer remover with firefox and you're set.
    • +Tor and whatever sandboxing method , this way even the site you were searching for doesn't know how you got there. This way even statistical counters don't have a clue if you searched for something or just entered the url.
  • I pay a (roughly) 20% premium price per gigabyte per month to have my offsite backups with a provider that gives me these things:

    rsync.net corporate philosophy [rsync.net]

    rsync.net Warrant Canary [rsync.net]

    Not only do I pay a small premium for this stance on their part, but I rave about thier product and support all the time. This business model _does sell_ and it breeds _more sales over time_. Business owners need to know this, and we as consumers need to vote with our dollars to ensure that they do.
  • Like they say, if using this tool marks you as a torren^H^H^H^H^Herrorist, it is useless, but if enough people used this service it could send a message to Google/Yahoo.

    Stil tor is the only real option.
  • Voila! Problem solved. When a user submits a search, don't log it. Privacy maintained. This will, of course, make gathering statistics a tad difficult since nothing will be logged.
    • by JoshJ ( 1009085 )
      How about logging JUST the search term? There's nothing wrong with google going "oh yeah, paris hilton was our #1 search". There's a problem with logging that "john doe in little rock, arkansas, zip code 23045, address 1234 main street; searched for 'paris hilton', 'britney spears', 'naked women', 'tennessee titans', 'george bush'."
      • ... because that doesn't help you build a better search engine? Which data is more useful to you when you're trying to return good results to users:

        1) This search query was used 10 times, link a was clicked 5 times, and link b was clicked 5 times.
        2) This search query was used 10 times, but 9 of those 10 times, people from the user's region really wanted to narrow down the serach query with this keyword (so suggest that to them), and when THAT query was performed, people with that users demographics were 85%
  • by SleepyHappyDoc ( 813919 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @03:34PM (#21660613)
    Chances are, your privacy is being sold right now.
  • Ask.com right now sits on 4.7% of the Internet queries. If 1% of the population are "very concerned about privacy" and half of them switch their searches, that would bring them from 4.7% to 5.2%. That wouldn't challenge Google, but it would increase Ask.com's search base by 10%. A 10% revenue growth COULD bring them an extra 20%-30% profits given how high their fixed costs are as a percentage of total costs.

    Ask.com doesn't have to beat Google, just increase their profits at a greater rate than their expe
  • like with a phone call, do you just type "*67" into your search and ...poof the record is blocked/gone!? Then maybe you hit "*69" and pull up all the other searchers that didn't "*67" them?:)
  • There's this puzzle I can't finish.
    The clue is "_______ Ask.com and the horse they rode in on."
    But I just can't get it. Maybe I'll search online for the answer...
  • By comparison, Google accounted for 58.5 percent, Yahoo for 22.9 percent and Microsoft for 9.7 percent.'"

    And how much of the Microsoft 9.7% is because of every default installation of Windows where starting IE forces you to Microsoft ?
  • If you are only talking about "sell", I would say that privacy will never sell, because it is not for sale.
  • Look at the article posted by Zonk on Tuesday http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/11/technology/11ask.html?em&ex=1197522000&en=f58e933b4945d926&ei=5087%0A [nytimes.com]

    "But underscoring how difficult it is to completely erase one's digital footprints, the information typed by users of AskEraser into Ask.com will not disappear completely. Ask.com relies on Google to deliver many of the ads that appear next to its search results. Under an agreement between the two companies, Ask.com will continue to pass query infor

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351