The recent AOL search record disclosure caused quite an uproar — much of it directed at AOL for releasing what many people consider "sensitive" search information. The New York Times even put a face to the number, figuring out who searcher No. 4417749 was and interviewing her about her search data.
But, many of the articles have overlooked the core problem. While AOL releasing search data may be concerning, the fact that search companies maintain, retain, and mine this data is the real issue. The recent AOL disclosure actually allowed many people to understand what the search data looks like (what have you typed into Google lately?) and how this data actually provides a very focused view of the person searching.
I’d even suggest search data provides a better view into the interests and even mind of a person than their web browing behavior — web browsing mostly consists of links from one page to another, while search data is actual direct input provided by a person. Instead of "surfing" from one page to another, reviewing search data can almost show what a person is thinking.
If you would like to prevent any search company from having this kind of insight into your search information, this might be a way to do it:
How to anonymize your search:
- Install the greasemonkey extension to Firefox and restart Firefox.
- Review the information on this page and install the script (with greasemonkey enabled). Firefox will create a pop-up alert warning you that you are about to install a script — select "Install" to this warning.
Once you have this working, your search queries will be routed through blackboxsearch.com. Black Box Search claims:
However, there isn’t much corresponding information to support this claim. So, this is obviously not a product endorsement, just another option — one that doesn’t use the omniscient Google cookie.