Commentary

Just An Online Minute... Big Guns Unlikely To Copy Ask's Privacy Advances

As promised this summer, IAC has rolled out some privacy enhancements to its Ask.com search engine.

With the program, AskEraser, users will be able to delete future search queries and identifying information like IP addresses from Ask.com's servers. But the program has some fairly big loopholes. Most notably, Ask will still share some query information with Google, which powers paid search listings on the site.

IAC's move comes at a time of increased attention to online privacy. Facebook last week had to back away from its Beacon program, which shared information about people's purchases with their friends, in the wake of complaints by members and marketers. And the FTC last month held hearings about whether online ad techniques violate people's privacy.

But IAC's move will only be significant if other search engines follow suit. While the three biggest search companies, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, have retreated from the position that they had to store records indefinitely, they still tie search queries to particular IP addresses for as long as 18 months. Google in particular has fought vigorously for the ability to continue holding onto such data.

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After European authorities pressed Google on the matter, the company agreed to decouple queries from IP addresses after 18 months -- which is still long enough to compromise people's privacy. Even now, with European authorities scrutinizing Google's proposed merger with DoubleClick, the search giant shows no signs of backing away from its position that it needs to keep records of users' searches.

Given the major search companies' track record, it appears unlikely that IAC's new AskEraser will persuade those companies to change their practices.

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