It would be a safe bet to say that Google has dominated the Search Engine market and is probably a first choice for many internet users in their daily searches.
Since the inception of Google, they have extended their services to cater for Email, Social Networks, Browsing Software, Mapping Technologies, Document and File Sharing, Calenders, and on and on.
For those that use Google services, will ultimately be giving away a lot of personal data which can be used by Google to build a profile on the person.
To give an idea of how much information is giving away just by doing a simple search, I think it is important to highlight the case of AOL, who in 2006, released 3 months worth of search data. Since AOL did not anonymise the data, experts easily showed how this information can be used to identify individuals and build profiles on individuals.
AOL did retract the data after the privacy concerns were raised, but by then it was too late, and the data has been shared amongst file sharers, mirrors, and is searchable at AOL Stalker.
AOL Stalker (www.aolstalker.com) was set-up to raise public concern over online privacy issues. Any data they have which can identify an individual has gradually been removed, what data has been left is anonymous user searches, which can still help someone build up a profile of a user (which can ultimately lead to that individual being identified).
As a test, I done a search for ‘Lochgelly’ which only returned one result; User 5488724 (http://www.aolstalker.com/5488724.html).
From their search queries, the user spent most of their time looking at Real Estate, Cooking guides, Wholesale food suppliers, various searches related to arts & crafts, information on past celebrities and bands (Kinks, Adam Ants, etc.), several searches for two schools, and so forth.
Looking at the data we can make assumptions on the user, such as age and gender. For example, due to the amount of searches for different cloth materials for arts & crafts, it would be safe to assume that the user is female, the searches for famous stars from the 60’s and 70’s suggest that the person is likely to be in their 40’s, and lastly due to the high level of searches for real estate, we can assume that either their main career is in real estate, or that they were consider relocating to the areas they searched.
This is a small snapshot the data collated (which has been anonymised by AOL Stalker) over a 3 month period, and other searches by other users show higher levels of personal data leaked that will allow even more in-depth profiling of users.
DuckDuckGo (https://duckduckgo.com) is available as https which encrypts your data searches from anyone that is snooping on your internet traffic. Duck Duck Go protect your privacy in several ways, including preventing ‘search leakage’ by making sure your search terms are not passed onto any sites you choose to visit from their search results.
The majority of websites will collect your User Agent and IP Address, and your computer will usually send data about your computer (Operating System, Browser Information, etc.). All this data can be used to link you to your searches and help build up an in-depth profile on the user. DuckDuckGo prevents this by refusing to store your data.
For further information about why you should care about your privacy and what data DuckDuckGo do not collect, please visit: https://duckduckgo.com/privacy.html
Ixquick (https://ixquick.com/), like DuckDuckGo also uses https encryption to protect your search data. Neither do they collect IP addresses nor do they collect any personal information, or details about your computer (operating system, browser, etc.).
Every time you use a regular search engine, your search data is recorded. Major search engines capture your IP address and use tracking cookies to make a record of your search terms, the time of your visit, and the links you choose – then they store that information in a giant database.
Those searches reveal a shocking amount of personal information about you, such as your interests, family circumstances, political leanings, medical conditions, and more. This information is modern-day gold for marketers, government officials, black-hat hackers and criminals – all of whom would love to get their hands on your private search data.
The quote from ixquick, basically sums up why people should be more careful with their private search data, and for those that are interested in learning about the steps that ixquick take to protect your privacy, please visit: https://ixquick.com/eng/privacy-policy.html.
Technology is evolving at a fast rate, and one of the downsides is personal data protection rights are being eroded, from the Music & Film industry wishing various Governments to implement ‘3 strikes’ laws which require your Internet Service Provider to snoop on your internet connection, from large online tech companies (such as Google, Facebook) which want to collect all your personal data for marketing purposes, and our very own UK Government which want to snoop on every personal email, website visited, comment left, etc. justified as to protect us from whatever today’s bogeyman is, it is more important than ever to start protecting our privacy.
DuckDuckGo and ixquick are two useful search engines that will help stop you from being identified and profiled from your searches, and over the next few months (time willing), I hope to put together a series of guides which will help you retain your anonymity online and avoid the ever growing intrusion into our lives from snooping Corporations and Governments.
Featured Article Image: Released under a Creative Commons Licence (Attribution) by Ralph Aichinger.