Ask.com Launches AskEraser Giving Searches Ability To Search Anonymously

Ask.com has launched AskEraser, giving searchers the ability to search anonymously. Ask.com told us about this tool back in July, and six months later, it’s now live for all searchers to use.

When a searcher activates AskEraser, Ask will stop recording the searcher’s search queries and cookie information. This information includes IP address, User ID, Session ID, and the complete query text. AskEraser is available across many of Ask.com’s properties, including Web search, image search, AskCity, news search, blog search, video search, and Maps & Directions.

How does it work?

At the top right of the Ask.com home page, you should see a link to “AskEraser.”

askeraser-home.png

To activate AskEraser, just click on the link and a pop up will ask you if you are sure you want to activate the feature.

askeraser-areyousure.png

Once you confirm, Ask.com will stop recording your searches and the AskEraser indicator will turn “On,” as shown below:

askeraser-on.png

To turn it off, just click it again and this will pop up, asking you to confirm:

askeraser-popoff.png

Jim Lanzone, CEO of Ask.com, said:

For people who worry about their online privacy, AskEraser now gives them control of their search information. AskEraser is simple, straightforward, and easy-to-use. It is an idea whose time has come.

I asked Jim a few questions about how AskEraser works.

(1) AskEraser works only for future searches; it is not retroactive. If you search for something and then activate AskEraser, the item you searched for will remain in the Ask servers for 18 months. Future searches that you do with AskEraser activated will not be stored.

(2) I asked Jim how this may impact Ask.com’s relevancy. Since Ask.com tends to use search queries in their Edison algorithm, how might missing this data impact results? Jim explained that the data used in their algorithms for relevancy is done on a “sampling basis.” He said that if 100% of Ask.com’s users adopt the use of AskEraser, then Ask.com would have to “modify a lot of what we do.” Ask.com would embrace that change, since it means Ask has hit on “something super important to users.”

(3) Finally, I asked if Ask has spoken with other search engines about this initiative and what type of feedback they received. Ask.com sent me this response:

Ask.com is really doing this in response to our users’ concerns over privacy. We aim to give them as many choices and innovative concepts as possible to help them improve their online daily lives and make their search experience with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, as well as trust and integrity. If others follow suit on the AskEraser concept and raise the bar on privacy in the industry – we all win: search engine and consumer alike. As you know, Ask.com has been actively involved with our colleagues in the search space – as well as the Center for Democracy & Technology – to further a meaningful and comprehensive dialogue on privacy – and getting to best practices and concrete steps. We think AskEraser helps put those policy discussions into action via consumer products. And that’s a good thing.

For AskEraser FAQs, visit http://sp.ask.com/en/docs/about/askeraser.shtml.

For more about recent industry standards on privacy and search, see Microsoft To Anonymize Log Data; Calls For Industry Standards Along With Ask.com.

Note: Ask says this feature will be live at the time this story is dated, Dec. 11 at midnight Eastern, or 9pm Pacific time on Dec. 10. Our story went live a few hours earlier than dated above, as Ask said we could release the news early.

Postscript: The Ask.com blog just posted their blog entry on the new feature.

Related Topics: Ask: General | Ask: Web Search | Channel: Search Marketing | Legal: Privacy

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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