Note: This article was originally published on DPS Computing on December 12 2007. Part of the new DPS Archives feature.
Ask.com has today reassured its users as well as privacy experts with the announcement of AskEraser – a tool which allows users to keep their searches private and not have them stored or used for statistical purposes.
The widely popular search engine Ask.com, formally Ask Jeeves, has enjoyed the adulation of privacy experts and Ask.com users alike with the announcement of AskEraser, a tool which is designed to keep users searches private.
The Ask.com website will now include a new privacy option that when applied at the users request will delete all information related to their searches of the Ask.com servers therefore keeping them private and away from prying eyes.
For years users big fear regarding the Internet and its use is the privacy of their online data. Whether it be online shopping, registering for a free e-mail account or simply searching for information or content there has always been the fear that someone somewhere is storing information about your habits and previous actions, sometimes for years.
With this news coming from Ask.com it is widely expected to put pressure on other Internet search engines to follow suit however they may be reluctant to do this. A senior director of a privacy group has told us “As you start giving users more control on certain sites, we hope that sites pressure each other to implement privacy control as a competitive tool”.
Although definitely a step in the right direction the fear is that with Ask.com’s ever decreasing market share in searches the pressure may become less and less for some other giants such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! to change there ways. Also, Ask.com sometimes shares data with Google at the time of searches for the purposes of ads and improving searches and although the user may enable the AskEraser tool Google are under absolutely no obligation to comply with its requests and delete the data that has been sent to it.
Ask.com may well have stumbled across something great with this tool however as the current trend of popular sites and services such as Google Mail and MySpace developing highly intrusive and suspect advertising programs that attempt to link certain ads to the content of your private email or MySpace information is not being recieved well at all from users. Google Mail and MySpace are both reported to have lost many users due to the new advertising systems which many see as glorified forms of spam. This can only spell disaster for both services with Microsofts rival Windows Live Mail (formally Hotmail) offering comparable services to Google Mail and Facebook offering comparable services to MySpace and in some cases outdoing them on features, functionality and extendability.
AskErasers greatest feature has to be though that not only can you delete data of your prior searches but you can also guarentee that no future search data on the Ask.com website is stored.
It is yet to be seen how many users take up the offer of AskEraser but you can be sure it will be followed closely by both the big search engines as well as privacy groups and of course the users themselves.