Erase Your Search Tracks

Most people probably don’t realize that their online searches are tracked by search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. With a new feature called AskEraser, is hoping to give people control over the privacy of their online searches. It’s a real issue for some people, especially given the uproar that ensued last year when AOL let slip search data from 650,000 users, some of which got tied to specific individuals.

AskEraser, launching on Tuesday, will let people delete records of their future search queries from’s servers. That includes the user’s IP address and the text of the search queries. However, search query info will continue to be sent to Google, which runs ads on Ask. (There’s much more detail at Search Engine Land.)

As search engine expert Danny Sullivan has noted, there are many other places your searches can be tracked, such as by your Internet service provider. But this is a positive move for people concerned with their privacy.

Assuming many people are. And that’s doubtful at this point, as even Ask CEO Jim Lanzone points out. “For most people, the issue doesn’t rise to the level of taking steps to protect their privacy,” says Lanzone. “I don’t believe the majority of people will use it.” One reason is that personalized features such as bookmarks won’t be available when AskEraser is turned on.

So why is Ask bothering with AskEraser? To gain an edge on rivals such as Google, which are perceived by some to be growing into a fearsome data repository? I asked him. Lanzone says this isn’t a competitive move, though I find that hard to believe. But in an era when it seems like our every move is tracked online, giving people a choice to opt out from an activity that inherently contains very personal and often sensitive information is at least a step in the right direction.

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