Online Search Privacy

Recently AOL leaked a 3 months worth of searches conducted by their users, supposedly by mistake. Even though the usernames are not given out in the logs, there is a lot of criticism based on this article about how it became possible to derive the identify of a person based on the searches she conducted.

In case of AOL, the searches are tied back to the individual user based on the AOL account. Since Google doesn’t have subscription like AOL, is it safe to assume your privacy is safe with Google? Not so if you are using Gmail as well. Why? Because, when you login to Gmail and keep it open all the time like I do, then, everytime you do a search, Google would know that it’s you (with a particular gmail email address), that’s doing the search! And that’s scary. Isn’t it?

All the people keep complaining about this privacy issue. One way this could be resolved is, if you can have two separate instances of Firefox each running as a separte process and one not knowing about the cookies of the other. Perhaps due to various technical reasons this is not possible, but where there is a will, there is a way. Isn’t it?

On the otherhand, even if that was possible, would you want to keep switching between two separate browsers? That’s the whole reason why we all love the Firefox’s tabbed browsing functionality in the first place.

So, what can be done to be able to browse in a single browser and yet protect your privacy against Google? Or for that matter any other company that can track your usage of their free service based on your logging into another of their service?

I think, I found a solution. It’s basically the IE Tab plugin I talked about in my previous blog. Here is what you can do.

1. Get Firefox if you already don’t have one and install it.
2. Then download the “IE Tab” plugin mentioned above and install it, restart the browser.
3. Now, go to https://gmail.google.com/ and switch it to IE by clicking the “IE Tab”s icon at the bottom on the status bar.
4. Login to Gmail.
5. Now, open another tab and happly keep searching the web, and Google wouldn’t get your cookie of their gmail to track you.

How do you know if it’s working? You will notice that while in the past, when you visited Google’s homepage to search, you would see “Logout” link, now you will start seeing “Sign In” link. Google no longer knows that you logged in as IE’s cookie base is different from Firefox’s.

Of course, they can still use the IP address of your machine to try to corelate. But it’s a little less accurate than relating your searches to precisely you!

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1 Comment

Filed under Gmail, Google Search, Privacy, Tech - Tips

One response to “Online Search Privacy

  1. Tal

    Using search proxies is a good step. You get the convenience of google without the problems.

    http://www.blackboxsearch.com

    also someone made a plugin that puts it in your firefox search box

    you can get it here

    http://www.connorboyack.com/blog/black-box-firefox-plugin

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