Hiding from the All-Knowing Googleplex: Page 2

Posted December 21, 2007

Sean Gallagher

(Page 2 of 2)

According to Google's own privacy FAQ, the search giant captures cookie information and the Internet Protocol (IP) address that identify the user with each search request.

While many cookies used by Web applications –- and many of Google's and DoubleClicks's cookies -— expire and are removed at the end of a web browsing session, some of the two companies' cookies are set to stay active much longer. One Google cookie, the infamous "immortal cookie" —- which carries the name "PREF" -- has an expiration date of January 17, 2038. In July, the company announced that it would start replacing the 2038 cookie with one that expired after two years.

While users can clear these cookies from their browser, or set their browser not to receive cookies at all," some Web site features or services may not function properly without cookies," Google's privacy FAQ says.

Double trouble?

Because the data collected by the cookies from Google and DoubleClick could theoretically be cross-referenced to obtain further profiling data on users. Part of what privacy advocates had hoped to secure from the FTC was assurances that DoubleClick would remove user- identifier cookies and "other persistent pseudonymic" identifiers from all corporate records and databases prior to a Google merger.

In June, Google announced that it would remove user identification information from search logs after 18 months. By comparison, Microsoft also retains data for 18 months, while Yahoo has shortened its retention to 13 months and Ask.com allows users to opt out of search retention.

DoubleClick's DART ad-serving cookie doesn't get associated with searches. Instead, it tracks what sites that serve up DoubleClick ads a user visits, and controls how frequently you see specific ads and in which order you see them. While DoubleClick allows Web users to opt out of the unique tracking cookie, it still records data based on IP addresses. The company doesn't explicitly state its data retention policies in its privacy policy.

So, short of legislation or a legal challenge to the FTC approval of the merger, there's likely only one way to avoid Google knowing even more about you: by turning off cookies on your browser and searching the Web through a proxy to hide your IP address. But what's not to like about giving information to a company whose slogan is "Don't be evil"?

This article was first published on InternetNews.com.

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