Of course I’ll spend the first post of 2008 catching up! On the other hand, if I do enough of that there will be no need to in 2009…. on December 11, Ask announced AskEraser. AskEraser is simply a little switch at the top of the Ask page. When it’s activated, as Ask notes in its blog, “your search activity will be completely deleted from Ask servers within a number of hours.”
I am probably missing something really obvious here, but I’m wondering why they don’t just flip the switch for everybody. That is to say, erase search activity by default and have “AskNoEraser” for people who want all their searches tracked. Why make privacy an option into which you have to opt? (Ask does note on its blog post that this is just one step the company is taking to disassociate searches from user IP addresses. I suppose things will be developing more over the next year.)
Shortly after the Ask announcement I got an email from the folks at Ixquick. Ixquick is a metasearch engine that takes user privacy very seriously. Ixquick expressed concern about Ask still passing on queries to third parties, like Google, despite the existence of AskEraser. In other words, AskEraser being only as good as the parties to which queries are being passed.
I thought it was a good question and asked Ask. I got a note back from Patrick Crisp at Ask. He noted “Yes, we do pass queries to Google because they need the queries, of course, to serve relevant sponsored listings and the retention of those queries is subject to Google’s policies.” But, “That said, we’ve been working to ensure that the strictest policies are in place with regard to how and which data is necessary and appropriate to share with Google.” The big question here is what Google does with it, but Ask can’t control this.
Finally, “Additionally, with AskEraser, we’re in a very real sense laying down a strong industry ‘marker’ that we expect others will follow.” I hope Ask is right. I do remember when Ask (at that time Ask Jeeves) took a line against popup windows for ads (this was back in 2002.)
If you want more information about AskEraser, Ask has a FAQ available at http://sp.ask.com/en/docs/about/askeraser.shtml. That FAQ includes questions about data going to third-party providers, why you must have cookies enabled for AskEraser to work, and in what circumstances AskEraser will track your search activity even when you have it turned on.