Whenever you do an Internet search, you’re dropping clues about yourself that you might prefer to keep private. After all, it’s nobody’s business if you want to find out what it would cost to buy a particular make/model of car… check treatment options for a health condition… or get information on just about anything that concerns you.
But as you probably know (or suspect), all the major search engines have the ability to compile, store, and cross-link that kind of data. And though they don’t make the data public, there’s no assurance it will never be accessed.
Case in point: In 2006, the U.S. Justice Department subpoenaed the search data of Google, AOL, MSN, and Yahoo to help defend a pornography law. Google managed to resist, but the others buckled under pressure and turned over their records.
When the story hit the news, it raised public awareness of what Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, has called “a ticking privacy time bomb.” And it triggered a surge of interest in ways to protect anonymity online.
One of the most popular solutions has been TrackMeNot, a privacy shield that’s been downloaded more than half a million times since that infamous Justice Department case. It works by generating a stream of random queries, making it impossible to “profile” searchers based on their search history. Your “actual Web searches, lost in a cloud of false leads, are essentially hidden in plain view.”
And guess what? As a subscriber to ETR, you’ve got your own built-in TrackMeNot.
Let me explain…
As ETR’s senior editor, I do a lot of fact checking – which means I do lots of Internet searches as part of my job. But beyond that, in every issue of ETR, I find references to all kinds of things that that I want to know more about. And I bet you do too.
I’m not talking about the main ideas covered by the articles. You get everything you need to know about them right there in the issue. I’m talking about intriguing little mentions of people… places… books… historic events. That kind of thing.
Just in the last few weeks, for instance, something you read in ETR might have inspired you to look up such offbeat subjects as Sammy Davis Jr.’s book Why Me?… the difference between right brain and left brain thinking… “dark matter”… old bodybuilding ads… discount ad networks… what people with head injuries have in common with Alzheimer’s patients… the history of toothbrushes… and Nicaraguan cigars.
Can’t get more diverse than that.
Anyone looking to profile us based on our search history hasn’t got a chance.
By the way, I’m curious. What kinds of things has ETR inspired you to learn more about? Let me – and your fellow ETR readers – know right here.