Some search engines log personally identifiable information (PII) such as location, IP addresses, digital identity, and other data to make the search results more relevant to the user, to display contextual advertising, or even to protect against fraud. They also track user activity and attempt to understand users’ behaviour on the web. Tracking by search engines may provide customised search results and help a user find the relevant content faster, it may also cloud the search results with the same information. While the quest for online anonymity and by extension, privacy, have essentially had to be traded off with convenience, there are different levels at which netizens may be able to guard their privacy online. Here is a quick list of some tools or services to ensure your privacy while conducting web searches.
Tor, a free-of-cost client-side software system is arguably the most well-known online anonymity tool. It uses multi-layered (like an onion) encryption to protect users’ identities. Users need to run an onion proxy on their devices. The data generated from activities such as visits to websites or content published online is encrypted many times over as it travels through the network, concealing the user’s identity and making it difficult to unscramble the information that is intercepted during communication. It is distributed under a free software license. However, researchers have documented ways of compromising the Tor network.
Screenshot of a search query at DuckDuckGo.com for DuckDuckGo
AskEraser is a privacy feature of the search engine Ask.com. When this feature is enabled, a user’s search history is deleted from servers within a few hours (Search engines are known to retain users’ data for as long as a few months.) The deleted content includes session cookies, IP addresses, search strings themselves, and the associated user ID, which is typically a serial number assigned to the user. However, AskEraser does not delete PII.
Google Encrypted Search
Google Encrypted Search enables searching over SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). Navigate to https://www.google.com or to https://encrypted.google.com to use this feature.
If you have a Google account, logging out of it before performing a search, or using different browsers for searching and using the account makes it slightly harder to log and track your activity.
GoogleMonkeyR is a userscript that enhances Google Search. Using the “trackless” option displayed adjacent to every search result, prevents the visit from being recorded and logged into your Google search history.
Opening image credit: Pike Research
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