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Search engine privacy

The internet is a huge platform on which millions of users operate on a daily basis, many users browse to there favorite websites, search websites trough search engines and fill in web forms, thus leaving information. Information about interests, hobbies or there behavior on the net in general. By now most of us know that search engines like Google have a huge user database full of search keywords of millions of users, and log many of the activities on the search engine, every word or term typed  will be saved, this information can be linked to your e mailaddress, name and IP-address.  This information in worth much in the eyes of companies, it is easy to find out what people are interested in. By knowing their interest it is easier to target them with marketing for the sale of goods and services.

By using search engines, for instance Google and then having your mailbox also at Google, it is very easy to directly address these people, we call that direct-marketing. You have been searching the internet for your long awaited vacation in Italy and have been doing some research about hotels in the Garda Lake area in Italy, it is very well possible that sponsored links pop-up in your mailbox about the best hotels in North Italy. While this can be convenient as a service, some people are irritated with the fact search engines know so much about us, it is a hate it or love it situation.It is not that I don’t like direct services and information regarding my interest that help me faster, but it concerns me that much information about our lives is stored by mega companies like Google. For the record I don’t hate Google, but I am concerned, overall I really like much of Google’s services. If you are concerned about this subject to read further, if you are not bothered about your privacy move on.

Here are some tips to protect your privacy on the internet.

1. Don’t use all services from one provider

Since Google annouced to combine all of its services, Google Search, GMAIL, YouTube, Google+ in January 2012 many of the services that where before that point separated are now combined, generating even more information about your as a person. Which websites you search, what you talk about in e-mail conversations, which video’s you like and watch and who your friends are.  Best suggestion is to use various providers of services, if you want to keep on using google for websearches, fine, but move your social network to Facebook and your e-mail to hotmail.

If you want to keep on using Google fine, but take a look at the program TrackMeNot  http://cs.nyu.edu/trackmenot/ ; TrackMeNot is a lightweight browser extention that helps protect web searchers from surveillance and data-profiling by search engines. And check-out this anonymizing proxy service at http://www.googlesharing.net/

2. Use a Proxy Server to disassociate yourself from search terms entered at search engines.

There many free proxy services available that allow you to use the Web without revealing your computer address, and there are also pay services. If you have a particularly sensitive search term you want to type in, or if you simply want to ensure that your searches are not attached to your computer’s Internet address (IP), you may want to consider using one of these services. You may not realize it, but your computer discloses a lot of information as you traverse the Web. To see your computer or IP address and the kind of information your computer is disclosing, visit IP ID at http://ipid.shat.net. Your computer’s address is just a series of numbers, but those numbers can be tied to you through a series of steps. Do you remember the RIAA lawsuits over music filesharing? The RIAA first found users’ IP or computer address, then went to Internet Service Providers to find out what specific customer that address belonged to. These same steps can be applied to searches you conduct at search engines, unless you take steps to mask your computer’s address.

3. TOR network

TOR is a free tool you can install on your computer that, when used in combination with a tool called Privoxy, helps to mask your computer’s address, among other things. It does take some technical know-how to install and maintain TOR and Privoxy, but it is not impossible for novice computer users to use. TOR can potentially make your Web surfing slow at times. However, TOR and Privoxy are a good tool set and are well worth considering. These two tools should be used together. http://tor.eff.orghttp://www.privoxy.org/

4. General Tips for Using Search Engines

These following tips are small steps that will not completely protect you from all search engine privacy issues, but they can potentially help you make incremental improvements. If you find the idea of using a proxy or an anonymizing service to be too much, then start with one or more of these tips.

  • Do not accept search engine cookies. If you already have some on your computer, delete them. Cookies can be used to correlate a variety of information. If you do use cookies, delete them from time to time and start fresh. Once a month is a good starting point. Once a week is even better.
  • Do not sign up for email at the same search engine where you regularly search. If you do so, then your email address can potentially be tied to your search terms. Whether or not a search engine does this is usually disclosed in the search engine’s privacy policy. See our first tip on segregating services.
  • Mix it up. Use a variety of search engines.
  • Again, watch what you search for. To reiterate, avoid using terms that include your full name attached to any information that you don’t want associated with it. In general, unless you are using a highly reliable and proven anonymous proxy, don’t type in anything that you would be embarrassed about later.
  • Do you get your news from a search engine? The news articles even video you click on may potentially be correlated to the search terms you look for at that same search engine, especially if you have been using one main computer and have been accepting cookies and not deleting them. This kind of correlation is all the more reason to use a wide variety of search engines, especially if you do not typically use anonymizing tools like Tor. You can read your news on one search engine, have your email on another, and use a handful of other separate search engines for Web research. It is not a perfect or a complete solution, but it is a start.
  • Varying the physical location you search from can be helpful if it is done correctly. For example, you may do some of your searching from an office, some from school, and some from home. If you vary what computers you search from and also vary the search engines you use, it makes it more difficult for one search engine to develop a complete profile of all your searching habits. The exception: if you regularly sign in to a search engine’s personalized accounts (like email) from these different locations, that can act to tie all the different locations together.
  • If you surf using a cable modem, or a static (unchanging) Internet connection, ask your service provider to give you a new IP address. It may cost a few dollars to make the change, but changing IP addresses every once in a while can be helpful for people who primarily surf the Web from one computer in one location over a long period of time. If you have kids at home who have used the same computer for a couple of years using the same static Internet connection, this is a great tip to implement if feasible.
  • Be aware that your online purchases can be correlated to your search activity at some search engines. Sometimes the relationship is not obvious, so be careful of this by reading privacy policies.  For example, if you purchase books at Amazon.com, think about using the generic version of the A9.com search engine (Amazon owns the A9 search engine). If you use the generic search site, Amazon.com will not tie the Amazon cookie (or your purchases) to your A9 search activities. (The generic address is http://generic.a9.com/. )
  • Conclusion

It is challenging to achieve 100 percent privacy 100 percent of the time when using search engines due to the large amount of information the search engines collect. It’s better to think in terms of reaching achievable, sustainable privacy goals.

Instead of trying to remain anonymous on a search engine 100 percent of the time, aim for staying anonymous some or most of the time. You may not have time one morning to surf anonymously through TOR or Anonymizer. When that happens, aim to use a variety of search engines with cookies turned off so that at least you aren’t creating an unbroken trail at one search engine. In short, find the balance that works for you, but at least work to add privacy in to your search routine in some way.

And finally, this tipsheet has not considered your personal computing hygiene. You should regularly reset and clear your Web browser history, and remove search engine searches that are stored in the browser. You can find the tools do accomplish this in the menu of your Web browser.  In the Safari menu, you can choose “Reset Safari,” which will specifically clear cookies and Google search entries stored in your local machine. In Firefox preferences, you can click a button to “Clear all information stored while browsing.”

As you browse the Web and conduct searches, keep in mind that those search terms are not merely floating into nothingness. In reality, they are being stored somewhere, and may be stored for a long time. Also, when possible, use an HTTPS connection, or secure connection, when you are using the web just as a general matter, if possible. Working to prevent privacy problems in the here and now is preferable to trying to clean up privacy problems after the fact.

 

 

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  1. For the love of God, keep writing these aritelcs.

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