AskEraser Wipes the Search Slate Clean

As of this morning, Ask.com is making it amazingly simple for its users to search anonymously. The new feature is called AskEraser.

All it takes is two clicks to enable AskEraser – one click on the “AskEraser” link in the top-right corner of an Ask.com page, and one click on the “Turn on AskEraser” confirmation message.

 

So how exactly does AskEraser allow users to become anonymous searchers?

Normally, Ask.com stores user search activity data on its servers for 18 months. Turning on AskEraser essentially allows Ask.com to delete your search activity data from its servers within a couple of hours.

This search activity data can include:

  • Search Terms Used
  • Links Clicked
  • IP Address
  • User ID Cookie
  • Session ID Cookie

Ask.com points out that AskEraser does not erase data collected by its third party partners. For example, Ask.com uses Google to supply its paid search results. According to the New York Times, “Under an agreement between the two companies, Ask.com will continue to pass query information on to Google.”

Google retains personal search data for 18 to 24 months.

Ask.com also states:

We cannot delete your search activity from the servers of third-party companies that receive your search queries to provide you with certain aspects of our search results (for example, current weather conditions, stock market summaries, etc.), sponsored search results and other product features.

So what’s the big deal about keeping search engine user data private?

Last year, AOL voluntarily released the private search data of more than 650,000 of its users. In the wake of a massive user outcry, AOL quickly apologized for the data release.

Not long before the AOL incident, the Bush Administration demanded that the major search engines hand over user search activity data and backed-up their demands with a handful of subpoenas.

In short, search activity data can provide insightful information about a search engine’s users. AskEraser pushes search privacy a step in the right direction.