TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Tool Generates Fake Searches for Privacy

Tool Generates Fake Searches for Privacy

Anick Jesdanun, AP (
Fri, 01 Sep 2006 01:27:32 -0500

By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer

A new tool seeks to make your searches more private by hiding them in
plain sight.

TrackMeNot periodically sends fake, innocuous queries to search
engines, making it harder for someone to glean your actual search
habits by reviewing the companies' logs that contain your queries.

The tool comes as AOL revealed it had released the search histories of
more than 650,000 subscribers. Although user names were not included,
the company admitted that the search terms themselves could contain
sensitive information. Two AOL employees were fired and a third
resigned over the disclosure.

The tool, developed by two researchers at New York University, sends
random searches, such as "boston clock" and "croissant," to the four
largest search engines -- Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. Microsoft Corp.'s
MSN and AOL. A fake search is made, on average, every 12 seconds under
default configurations; the tool can generate millions of unique
queries from its list, and users can add their own.

TrackMeNot, however, works only with the Firefox browser, which has less
than 10 percent market share, according to WebSideStory.

It's also not foolproof. Someone knowing the list of terms TrackMeNot
uses can simply strip those records out of the databases. Developers
say they are working on expanding the list.

TrackMeNot is available at:

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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