offers users a privacy tool

December 12, 2007

AskEraser is a new feature offered to users of the search engine,, which allows you to erase your search activity. Featuring in a prominent spot in the upper right-hand corner of pages, users have the option to turn the function on and off, thus enabling them to delete sensitive privacy data from Ask's servers.

How personal data is used is becoming more of an issue as people live more of their lives online. Some are concerned about possible deals between search engines and ad firms, especially as sites such as Google use data about a browser's IP address and recent history to serve relevant advertisements.

In August 2006 AOL was forced to apologize after it released the search queries of more than 650,000 of its US subscribers to help in academic research. User's names were not associated with the search terms, though fears were raised that the queries contained personally identifiable data. It was not clear which researchers were given the data and how they intended to use it (source: BBC News). Perhaps then the AskErase feature will help overcome the negative impact of last year's blunder?

Either way, as the search engine market is dominated by Google, smaller search sites find the need to focus on new and innovative methods of attracting users. Privacy is an overwhelming issue to many web-users, especially in this time when identity theft and online fraud are rife. Most search engines will store data of searches for up to 18 months, and indeed Ask will continue to do so for users who do not use the AskErase feature. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction to assuring web-users that their privacy is safe, though as yet I'm not sure that Ask's attempt is a strong enough selling point to make it a true competitor for Google.

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