Ask stakes out new turf in privacy battle

Ask.com is allowing users to delete data on their search queries, in an effort to win over new users as fears over online privacy grow.

Ask stakes out new turf in privacy battle

The new feature, called AskEraser, will be featured on the site’s home page and all search results. When activated it will delete all subsequent search queries and related information linked to a user’s “cookies,” or identifying information from their computers.

“We take significant steps to protect any data that’s stored in our servers, but for those people who want to take extra precautions, AskEraser lets them take the issue completely off the table,” says Ask.com chief executive Jim Lanzone.

The issue of data privacy has been a pressing one of late, with Google admitting that companies could be in trouble if users lose trust in their search anonymity. All the major search engines have subsequently moved to quell these fears by agreeing to anonymise their stored data after 18 to 24 months.

However, US privacy advocates don’t believe this is enough and are lobbying for the creation of a “do not track list”, which would prevent users’ online activities being collected for behaviourally-targeted advertisements, a key growth area for both Google and Microsoft.

However, Ask is the first to offer its users an opt-out policy, marking out new ground in the privacy arms-race.

Despite this, Google still delivers many of the advertisements that appear next to Ask’s search results, meaning Ask will continue to pass query information on to the search giant, though it argues Google is contractually constrained in what it can do with that information.

Ask says it is now working on products that take better advantage of web usage patterns, on an anonymous basis, to improve the relevance of the search results it can offer.

The feature will initially be available to US and UK users, expanding to global sites in 2008.

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