Ask.com Puts a Bet on Privacy

Will privacy sell? Ask.com is betting it will. The fourth-largest search engine company will begin a service today called AskEraser, which allows users to make their searches more private.

Ask.com and other major search engines like Google,Yahoo and Microsoft typically keep track of search terms typed by users and link them to a computer’s Internet address, and sometimes to the user. However, when AskEraser is turned on, Ask.com discards all that information, the company said.

Ask, a unit of IAC/InterActiveCorp based in Oakland, hopes that the privacy protection will differentiate it from more prominent search engines like Google. The service will be conspicuously displayed on Ask.com’s main search page, as well as on the pages of the company’s specialized services for finding videos, images, news and blogs. Unlike typical online privacy controls that can be difficult for average users to find or modify, people will be able to turn AskEraser on or off with a single click.

“It works like a light switch,” said Doug Leeds, senior vice president for product management at Ask.com. Mr. Leeds said the service would be a selling point with consumers who were particularly alert about protecting their privacy.

{One of the worst things about online searching is that your search data and information on what you buy is sold and used to identify and profile you. This is most disturbing in two areas: the state of your health and psychological profiling for political use. Patient Privacy Rights is especially concerned about people being profiled based on their searches for health information. Many “health” websites collect your data and sell it. The problem is employers, insurers, and creditors want to know about your health in order to make decisions about you. Ask.comwill keep where you search private, but the websites you visit may not keep your data private and may sell it. People searching for information about Depression may not expect that the websites they visit and the questions they ask are valuable data especially to employers.~Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights.}

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