Commentary

Search leakage is not FUD

Lately I’ve been accused by some of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) by trying to let people know their search terms are being leaked to the sites they click on. I hope to address those concerns in this post.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about: when you click on a link on the Internet, where you clicked from gets automatically sent to the site you clicked on (most of the time).

For example, if you’re on yahoo.com and you click to a story at the New York Times, your browser will send to newyorktimes.com some information that you came from yahoo.com — namely, the Web address of the page you were just on. This info is called the Referrer.

At issue here is that sometimes the Referrer contains personal information. In particular, when you use most search engines, your search terms are included in the Referrer. That is, when you search on Google/Bing/etc., and you click on a link, your search terms are sent to the site you clicked on. This search leakage doesn’t happen at DuckDuckGo.

Now, let’s take the FUD arguments in turn – One site having one of my search terms is irrelevant. That may generally be the case, but unfortunately, tens of millions of sites run ads from just a handful of ad networks. Those ad networks can aggregate your search terms and piece together a large percentage of your search history.

So the question then becomes do you care if third parties (not associated with your search engine and not bound by its privacy policy) have a significant % of your search history? If you don’t care about that, then you probably don’t care about Referrers.

It’s not Google’s fault. Your browser sends that stuffContinue reading…

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