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Keeping Your Search Private

written by: William Springer•edited by: Mark Muller•updated: 5/18/2011

Searching for medical information, or something else that you don't necessarily want the world to know about? Here's how to keep your search history a secret!

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    Shhh! It's a Secret! (Well, Maybe Not)

    Just about everybody uses Google, and for good reason; they usually have the best results. What you might not realize, however, is that they also save every search you make! While this is done for legitimate reasons - they use this information both to serve you results that are more relevant to your personal interests, and to improve the search as a whole - many people aren't comfortable knowing that thier entire search history is locked away for future use.

    You can see your recent searches by going to http://www.google.com/searchhistory; while you can delete searches from the history, Google will continue to save that information for their own use.

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    Google Results, Without the Tracking

    Want Google's results, but don't want them to know who's asking? Scroogle.org returns the results of your query, without Google ever seeing your IP address or setting a cookie, and they delete their logs within 48 hours. Aside from privacy, this is also nice when you want to check how your website is ranking without it coming up higher because of your personalized results. Note, however, that the site queries Google's European servers, which may not give exactly the same results as your local ones.

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    Anonymous Searching? Duck!

    Duck Duck Go is a newer search engine that has gotten attention both for the funny name, for the interesting way of presenting results,Duck Duck Go logo  and because they offer anonymous searching. The site offers "zero-click" searching: rather than you clicking on page after page until you find what you're looking for, it continues to load more results as you scroll down the page. They use structured data sources such as Wikipedia to feed into an internal database; they also attempt to remove parked and spam pages for better search results.

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    Certified Private

    Don't want to take the search engines at their word when they say they don't save your information? Ixquick, which queries several search engines and rates each result according to how many times it is returned, was both the first search engine to announce that they would be deleting their user's private information (they now no longer store IP addresses at all) and was also awarded the first European Privacy Seal, certifying that it is compliant with European regulations on privacy and data security (which tend to be more stringent than US regulations). Ixquick bills itself as the world's most private search engine.

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    Avoiding Snoops

    This is by no means a comprehensive listing; there are a number of anonymous search engines out there. If your privacy is important to you, you'll want to check a site's privacy policy for yourself before committing sensitive information, as these policies can and do change over time.

    Using a non-tracking web search engine is only the first step in maintaining your online privacy. Remember that if you're using an anonymizer, the search can still provide information about you even if there's no way to link it back to your IP address. For example, if you're trying to make sure that your social security number doesn't appear anywhere on the internet and you search for it along with your name, you just passed a string that includes your name and SSN! Additionally, it's quite possible for search queries to be made public, so avoid looking up anything where the query itself would be damaging if it became known, even without being attached to a searcher.

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    Reference

    The author uses anonymous search engines to check where his sites are in the search engines without getting personalized results.

    Image source: duckduckgo.com