A fledgling meta search engine has developed a way to prevent Google, Microsoft Bing, Yahoo and ad networks from collecting IP addresses or dropping cookies in browsers to serve up personalized content and ads. Startpage.com has developed a Web proxy service that lets people surf the Internet anonymously.
The word "proxy" appears in query search pages under each keyword result. Clicking on the word 'proxy' instead of the blue link allows people to view the content without recording information from the person's browser.
Startpage.com goes out to the Web site clicked on and retrieves content from Bing, Cuil, Ask, Digg, Yahoo and others. It serves up the information in a privacy-protected window. The person's browser never interacts with the external Web site, so the queried site cannot view or capture consumer data. Rather than seeing the consumer's cookies and IP address in the computer's browser, it sees Startpage.com's.
Without the proxy, Web sites see and record IP addresses and collect data through cookies once people leave the initial search query page by clicking on links, which allows ad networks to target advertisements and dynamically configure Web sites based on location, and prior Web surfing behavior and purchases.
The next step for Startpage.com could become "private email," says Katherine Albrecht, who spearheads marketing for the company in the United States.
Didit Chief Executive Officer Kevin Lee points to several dozensearch services that have surfaced over the years. "Most people really don't care much about being anonymous, and those who do usually don't surf anonymously all the time -- just when they are doing something 'special,'" he says.
People using proxies are often the "bad guys," such as spammers, or otherwise have "nefarious" reasons for wanting to skate under the radar, says David Harry, Reliable-SEO founder. So proxies aren't always a "good thing," he says.
And if people do care about surfing the Internet anonymously, Harry explains that people can "grab a proxy" such as Startpage.com, and install it in a Firefox browser. "Simply proxy surfing is not going to cut it with the newest services," he says, pointing to a link on how to install a proxy in a Firefox browser. "Honestly, I would have to think there is an element here of trying to cash in on people's fears."
It's not clear whether Startpage.com, known as Surfboard Holding B.V.-owned ixquick.com in Europe, will launch a ad-serving biz, but today it pulls in and serves up paid-search ads from AdWords. Although unconfirmed with Google, Albrecht says a deal between the Mountain View, Calif. company and fledgling engines allows clicks on paid-search ads to remain private.
"Scaring people about the information Google collects is not an effective way to break the Google Habit," says Aaron Goldman, managing partner at Connectual. "The bottom line is people are willing to give Google the benefit of the doubt and look the other way because the results are so darn good."