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Saturday, 22 January 2011

The World's Most Private Search Engine?

SearchingImage by kevindooley via FlickrMost people know that every time they use a regular search engine their search data is recorded. Search engines capture your IP address and use tracking cookies to make a record of your search terms, the time of your visit, and the links you choose.

They store that information in a giant database.  There is in reality a vast amount of personal information about your interests, family circumstances, political leanings, medical conditions etc.

According to this StartPage, this information is modern-day gold for marketers, government officials, hackers and criminals - all of whom would love to get their hands on your private search data.

There is no denying the truth of this statement as and marketers such personal information is extremely valuable.  If you are still in doubt remember the 2006 AOL debacle where three months' worth of aggregated search data from 650,000 of its users was accidentally released, with all the details published in an online database.

Believe it or not, this database is still searchable. Using a tools such as AOLStalker enter a query and find out who searched for it.  Once you have done this click on the "User ID" and find what else this user searched for.

So if I was the manufacturer of say 'Einstein Bagels' and wanted to see who has interested in my product, I could do a quick stalker search and then click on the "User ID" to get a better idea of my prospective customer's other interests.

Social media is also a fertile ground for companies wishing to make a buck out of search.  Try Spokeo, a search engine that uses email addresses to find people across the social Web.

Give Spokeo your log-on information for Gmail, Hotmail, AOL or Yahoo Mail, or just upload your personal address book and  Spokeo will scour 41 social networks and collect all information associated with each email address. Blog entries, Linked In profiles, Flickr photostreams, Twitter tweets, Digg comments, Amazon wish lists - and a whole lot more - all on one page. And every time these people add new content, Spokeo lets you know.

In other words, for under $10 per month Spokeo lets you to stalk these strangers in new and unusual ways.

And as Digital Inspiration points out, should you ever wish to determine the geographic location of someone who has sent you an email (and who you have never heard from before) use a visual trace route tool.

Open the header of the email and find the lines that say “Received: from” followed by an IP address in square brackets. If there are multiple entries, use the IP address mentioned in the last entry.  Copy and paste this into the tool and bingo!

The issue of online privacy refuses to go away but maybe, just maybe, there are alternatives.

StartPage claims to be the world's most private search engine. Under the hood is Ixquick; in fact they are the same beast in slightly different clothing.

The engine's capabilities include an Advanced Search, a global search and power refinement and the integration of a phone directory search is a nice touch.

Picture search presented the results cleanly with image sizes clearly identified

The privacy guarantee from StartPage is their stated promise not to record your IP address. But your chances of becoming the 'Invisible Man' online are in reality remote, as data (e.g. Wikileaks) can always be found or made available.
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