Ask.com to offer increased privacy control with AskEraser

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Search engine Ask.com will launch a new product called AskEraser that will give Web searchers more control over their privacy when searching for information online. The company claims it will not retain the search histories of customers who opt in for the AskEraser.

Ask.com said users will have access to AskEraser and can change their privacy preference at any time. Once selected, searchers' privacy settings will be indicated on search results pages so they know the privacy status of their searches.

The search engine sought insights from privacy advocates at the Washington-based Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) as part of the process of developing an approach that gives users the ability to control their search experience.

"If we had one overarching message to them it was that they should try to put users in more control of their own data," said CDT policy analyst Alissa Cooper. "The Internet is kind of in flux right now and a lot of people don't really feel they have control of their own data.

"We suggested they put users in as much control as possible over the information they give over when they do a search query," Cooper continued. "By allowing users to completely opt out of having their queries stored - that's pretty strong control, much stronger than anything else out there today."

Ask.com will also implement a new data-retention standard that will disassociate search history from a user's IP address or cookie information after 18 months.

"AskEraser is a great solution for those looking for an additional level of privacy when they search online," said Jim Lanzone, CEO of Ask.com, in a statement. "Anonymous user data can be very useful to enhance search products for all users, and we're committed to being open and transparent about how such information is used."

Ask.com expects to deploy AskEraser on Ask.com in the United States and the United Kingdom by the end of the year and globally early next year.

Cooper said the Center for Democracy & Technology worked to help search engines figure out ways to be more privacy protected, including figuring out what data they need to improve search engines and prevent fraud, among other reasons for storing data.

"There is competition for privacy among the engines [as] search is becoming increasingly integral to everyday users' lives," Cooper added. "[Privacy control] appeals to a small sub-set of people; I don't think it's necessarily everyone's first consideration when they decide which search engine they're going to use.

"But to some people it's very important," Cooper said, "and I think the companies have started to realize that and that's part of why they're focusing on it more now than ever. [Ask.com] approached us because they were really looking to beef up their privacy practices and they ended up making some great steps in protecting the privacy of the people who use the Ask.com search engine."

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