Targets The Coveted Paranoid Demographic

from the ask-jeeves dept is seeking to differentiate itself from its more popular competitors by adding a new feature called AskEraser that will prevent Ask from retaining personal information about its users. A prominent link on the front page will allow users to turn AskEraser on and off. When it's set to "on," Ask will automatically discard the information it normally collects in order to provide users with personalized service.It's great to see Ask focusing attention on search engine privacy, and giving users more choices is rarely a bad thing, but I can't help feel like this is more a marketing gimmick than a serious privacy initiative. In the first place, as the Times article points out, Ask will still be feeding query information to Google, which has not promised to respect the user's AskEraser setting. This would seem to limit the usefulness of the service for users who don't want their activities tracked or recorded. But the more serious flaw, it seems to me, is that it forces the user into making an all-or-nothing choice between privacy on the one hand a personalization on the other. I doubt very many users want either perfect anonymity with no personalization, or compete personalization with no privacy. Rather, most users want a search engine that strikes a reasonable balance by collecting the minimum amount of information necessary to provide useful personalization services and handling that data in sensible ways that enhance user privacy. Rather than an all-or-nothing choice between functionality or privacy, search engines should make clear to users the trade-offs they face and let them choose which personalization features they want to enable. In addition, there are lots of ways search engines can enhance privacy without any significant reduction in functionality. For example, earlier this year Google announced that they would start anonymizing their logs after 18 months, a small but sensible way to protect customer privacy. More steps like that would enhance the privacy of all users, not just those who are privacy-conscious enough to click the AskEraser link.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Captain Nemo, Dec 12th, 2007 @ 3:45am

    Security is all well and good, but...


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Jamie Vandermoer, Dec 12th, 2007 @ 4:17am eraser

    I think you're absolutely right in your article, but do you think the average person even understands what's really going on behind the scenes when they do a search for "Britney Spears" or "fishing lures"? I'll bet 98% of users don't realize that all this information is even being captured and cataloged. Nor do they understand the implications of how their privacy could and is being invaded. Except that guy who killed his wife and his Google searches were what helped convict him. He understands pretty well.
    Thanks, big fan of your site,
    Jamie V.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Homer Simpson, Dec 12th, 2007 @ 5:05am


    The goggles, they do nothing!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Just Me, Dec 12th, 2007 @ 5:15am


    "I doubt very many users want either perfect anonymity with no personalization, or compete personalization with no privacy."

    Funny that's exactly what I'd be after. I can't speak for "most" but many of the people I know would much prefer such an all-or-nothing approach.
    I think it's mostly horse-dung anyway (even without knowing about the Google side of it) but typically if I don't want info logged on me I don't want *any* info logged at all.

    Other times (like at work) I really don't care if they log every search I do since I know I'm not doing anything I wouldn't care if the whole world searches from home on the other hand...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Derek Reed, Dec 12th, 2007 @ 2:41pm

    Good thing new stuff is trialed

    I for one am glad that they are experimenting with a new approach in the market, and that long term user reactions to this will decide whether it was worth it or not, and if others will follow suit or not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Brian Carnell, Dec 12th, 2007 @ 8:40pm

    I'd Prefer Nothing

    I'm with @4...I would prefer the ability to completely anonymize some searches. In fact I'd like the option for Google, etc. not to retain any information at all, including what I search for.

    The AOL search term link proved you can assemble quite a bit of information about specific individuals through nothing more than access to raw search data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    sprearson81 (profile), Jun 8th, 2012 @ 6:14pm

    Ask jeeves lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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