10 September 2006
After AOL published its users’ private search data last month, you may be wondering where it’s safe to do your searches.
Who is the most trustworthy search engine? Is there something you can do so that you don’t have to trust the search engines at all?
Trustworthy search engines
Last fall, when the United States Justice Department asked for private search records to aid its case in a court battle, some of the biggest search engines, including AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft, gave in to the request immediately. Google refused to hand over the data and a subsequent court ruling on the matter took Google’s side. So, when it comes to search, Google is probably the safest.
At the risk of joining the tinfoil hat crowd, there is something you can do to avoid suffering even if one of the major search engines decides to give up on your privacy. Blackboxsearch.com lets you search Google, Yahoo, and MSN anonymously (and for free).
Here’s how it works: every time someone performs a search on Blackboxsearch, the website sends the request to the appropriate search engine while hiding your IP address. All searches arriving at Google or Yahoo or MSN appear to come from Blackboxsearch’s IP address, which means that if ever an entity like the Justice Department gets its hands on the search terms, all it would get is a mass of words and phrases, all seemingly coming from the same place. There would be nothing there that would help them match up searches to IP addresses and individuals.
Then again, using Google for your searches is probably more convenient, since it doesn’t involve navigating and getting accustomed to a new website. Privacy and security always involve tradeoffs in terms of time and effort, so decide for yourself how severely a data compromise would affect you, and either go directly to Google for your searches or use a proxy like Blackboxsearch.