Social Media News Release

What your readers can do to ensure their Internet searches are kept private

Right to privacy is a basic human right. You might even think you have it. But the truth is that in today’s web centric world, privacy is something you have to earn, it is not given to you, you have to opt-in. Have you tried searching for yourself on sites like Spokeo? If that worries you, which it should, that is only tip of the iceberg. This is only the data that is publicly available. Imagine how much your search engine knows about you?
How do private search engines like Privatelee protect you?
  1. Search engines like Privatelee do not set any unique trackable cookies or store IP addresses.
  2. These search engines don't own any ad networks and what you do while on these search engines doesn’t affect your experience on other websites.
  3. They all are always on SSL/HTTPS. This means that no one, like your employer, can spy on you. It also prevents the sites you visit after you click on search results from knowing what you searched for.
  4. These search engines, being significantly small in size, have the added advantage of staying off the radar of most spy agencies.
  5. They don't offer any services where you need to log in. Once you login to any services a search engine offers, like email, everything you do on any of their properties, including search, can easily be tied directly to you.
ad factory
Did you know?
  1. The "free" search engines took home a total of 14.8bn (that is billion with a "b") in revenue last year in US alone.
  2. What you search for is subsequently used to serve you targeted ads, even uncomfortable ones. Spying
  3. Almost all of the ads online are controlled by two companies: Google and Microsoft.
  4. What you search can affect the prices you pay for goods and other services like insurance.
  5. Most corporate networks have software that track activities on well know search engines and social network.
  6. Most sites set multiple Cookies on your PC, many of those are intended to track you. They are like tracking beacons that help advertising companies track you across the web.
What do search engines do with what they know?
Before we can answer this question lets step back and look at this from the search engines stand point. All the search engines are public company mandated by their shareholders to maximize profits.
If you were under the impression that these services are free because these companies are simply out to do public good, well then I have a bridge to sell you. No one makes billions and billions of dollars just by doing good.

Search engines are essentially advertising platforms. They make money when you click on ads. With that in mind, here is what these ad networks do with your data:

  1. They create a profile with as much information as they have which might include your name if you signed into any of the "free" services like emails/social networks/video etc.
  2. Every search you conduct goes into your profile. Search engines do eventually make your search anonymous. But no search engine policy states that they will forget the fact that you suffer from "diabetics". That will stay for as long as they can track your profile.
  3. Since most website set tracking cookies from ad networks everything you do online goes into that profile.
  4. All the big ad networks are owned by the same companies that run the top search engines so now they have your search history and browsing history.
  5. When search engines say they eventually make your search anonymous, that doesn't mean they destroy what they know about you. Keeping your search for diabetics anonymous is different from deleting the fact that they know you are interested in diabetics.

Have you ever wondered when you search for something why ads related to what you searched for start showing up on unrelated websites? Like the internet suddenly became your friend? Now you know why.
  1. All search engines claim to make search history anonymous after a few months, isn’t that good enough?
    The major search engines were quick to change their policy to privatize search history after the privacy concerns were raised. But that didn’t really affect their bottom line, did it? The catch is that they claim to keep the fact that you searched for “sanitary napkins” anonymous. As a result of that search they know that you are a young to middle aged female. The six months is to give them enough time to mine the data.

  2. What information is actually being tracked?
    Most search engines own many assets which are not that well know to outside of select circles. These assets which include ad-networks, tracking and analytics software, tie ups with ISPs etc. allow them to track a lot of information. Pretty much anything that you do online is fair game which includes everything you search for online, the websites you visit and the time you spend on those sites. If you are signed into any services provided by the search engine provider like email or social networking then it is much worse, they pretty much know everything about you at that point.

  3. What are cookies?
    Cookies are a small file that a site can set on your PC via your browser. It is essentially a string and pretty harmless by itself and very useful when used for what it was originally intended.

  4. Are all cookies bad?
    No, cookies serve an important role on the web. Cookies are used to store small amount of data that can includes pointers to more data on the web server. It allows the web site, like your bank’s site, to track who you are after you log in.

  5. What are bad cookies?
    Cookies by themselves are not bad, but like knives they can be used in a bad way. Cookies that are placed on your browser with the intention of tracking what you do online for data mining and profiling you are bad cookies. The worse are the 3rd party cookies, i.e. cookies placed by one site on behalf of another, which helps track you across web sites.

  6. Does clearing your cookies help?
    They certainly would help but the cookies do come back as soon as you go online.

  7. Can using certain Internet browsers prevent this?
    No, unless you completely turn off cookies, which would make your internet experience pretty bad (can't log into sites etc) you are not going to completely prevent it. But we would recommend using a neutral browser like Mozilla Firefox.

  8. Are these user profiles only used for advertising purposes?
    No, and that is where it can get really scary. Insurance companies use this information to gauge your life expectancy and hike up premiums or even cancel insurance. Employers use software to track employees. Pretty much every governmental agency does some amount of snooping.

  9. Apart from using a private search engine what else can I do to protect my privacy online?
    Basic stuff like ensuring you have a good Anti-Virus installed can go a long way. Install plugins like DoNotTrack, Ghostery and Adblock to prevent 3rd party cookies from being set.
Additional Resources
  1. Privatelee - Private search engine
  2. List of top private search engines.
  3. EFF's Top 12 Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy
  4. Tips to protecting your privacy online
  5. Current state of privacy on the internet
Only you can guard your privacy. If you take the simple steps above you will not only ensure a better experience online but protecting your privacy means no one can use information about you to manipulate you to their own end.