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Search Engine Privacy

The answer to many questions is an online search away. However, online searches are not free of all consequences. Indeed, search engines can track and store a user’s search history and even sell this personal information to third parties for profit. What someone types into a search bar then becomes part of a permanent link tied to that Internet Protocol (“IP”) address. This certainly raises several concerns regarding online and individual privacy. In a highly digitized era, this affects anyone with Internet access, a computer, and even a cellphone.

What are the Main Concerns of Search Engine Privacy?

Search engines track personal information using users’ search history, including a user’s IP address, search terms, name, and location. Websites, such as Google and Yahoo, can then use this information for their marketing, or they can sell users’ search history to marketing firms. Online search history generates an impression of the user, which the public can then use to its advantage–e.g., for criminal investigations, employment opportunities, and to fuel personal disputes. Public opinion in this area strongly disfavors this level of surveillance. As a result, websites have begun to compete in terms of which search engine provides the greater privacy protection. Efforts to improve search engine privacy consider, among other standards, how long a search engine stores user information, how a search engine deletes such information, whether the search engine engages in behavioral targeting (i.e. whether a site uses search history to provide targeted advertisements), and whether the search engine uses profile information to manipulate advertisements. Based on a recent survey by CNet, only Ask.com does not record search terms. Outside the circle of the large search engines, sites such as ixquick.com allege that they do not record IP addresses when users conduct searches through their website. According to the survey, Google also does not engage in behavioral targeting.

How Can Internet Users Protect Search Engine Privacy?

In recent years, public discussions have begun to consider whether search engines are justified in retaining and storing personal information through a user’s search history. Since the federal government has not established a uniform standard for privacy protection, each jurisdiction has set different limits to protect search engine privacy. On the other hand, in Europe, search engines have clearly defined guidelines for how they handle search engine privacy. According to the European Union Data Protection Directive, search engines are required to delete any search engine history or permanently “anonymize” such information once it is no longer used for the purpose of the underlying online search. This standard applies to all search engines, even those that do not maintain their principal place of business in Europe. This is certainly a much higher standard of privacy than those existing in America. Nonetheless, Internet users can take some steps to protect their search engine privacy. For instance, be cautious about the terms you type into a search bar because search engines tie search history terms to IP addresses. Also, by using different search engines, users can limit the body of information available in a single database. Deleting cookies from your computer will further help limit trackers on your computer that are tied to your IP address.

At the Law Offices of Salar Atrizadeh, we guide clients in legal matters regarding all aspects of internet privacy by using extensive knowledge and skills to create innovative solutions to fit our individual client’s interests. Please contact us today to set up a free confidential consultation.