Complaint Against Ask.com Alleges Deception Regarding AskEraser

A consortium of watchdogs has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission accusing search engine Ask.com of deceptively promising consumers the ability to delete their search history with the new AskEraser tool.

"In fact, the product does not work as advertised: Internet search histories will be retained without notice to Internet users," states the complaint, which was quietly filed Saturday by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action and other groups.

Ask.com said in a statement that the complaint was "flawed and unfortunate," adding that it "simply shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the functionality of our product."

When IAC's Ask.com rolled out the AskEraser, the product came with built-in limits. Among the most significant was that third parties including Google, which powers paid searches on Ask.com, still have access to consumers' search queries, even if those users deployed the AskEraser tool.

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The Electronic Privacy Information Center and other groups complain that those restrictions are significant enough that Ask.com should not present the product as enabling users to delete their search histories.

"AskEraser marketing leads the public to believe that their search histories are not being collected and retained by Ask.com. Not only is this not always the case, search histories are accessible, collected and retained by both third-party advertisers and third-party service providers," the complaint states.

An Ask.com spokesman said the company had always been "open and transparent" about AskEraser's limitations, including that Google would still have access to some search queries.

The search company also criticized the complaint for chilling innovation, saying the filing "has an adversarial effect to companies in the online space who would like to innovate on privacy to benefit users, but who might think twice based on wrongful and intimidating steps such as those taken by EPIC."

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