Last week, Abine announced a brand new Private Search service for Google’s search engine. Private Search enables users a level of search engine privacy not possible with any other service on the market – users will finally be able to search Google without worrying about their queries being saved, shared, sold, and connected to their real names.
Being able to search on Google anonymously, without the worry of stored cookies, search history or IP addresses means users won’t be targeted based on their most private information by Google or any third party vendor.
As Private Search is a new and relatively unfamiliar concept, I sat down with our CTO, Andrew Sudbury, to answer a few of the most frequently asked Private Search questions.
Q: How does Private Search work?
Private Search sends your searches on www.google.com through a special proxy server. This proxy server swaps out your identity with one taken from it’s identity pool. Then it forwards the search to Google, gets the search results, and then sends them back to your computer.
Q: I’m a computer guy – can you be specific?
Sure – search traffic to www.google.com is sent to a proxy server via https. There, the cookies and user agent strings are replaced with cookies and user agent strings taken from a pool of prepared identities. The search request is then forwarded to encrypted.google.com, and the results are returned through the proxy server to your browser, all over https.
Q: Why can’t Google see my searches — I’m still on www.google.com?
Google can see the search terms, but it looks like the search came from an IP address of our proxy servers, and with the identifying cookies and user-agents taken from our pool. They can’t connect these searches back to the cookies they use to identify you or the IP address of your computer.
Q: Aren’t my searches private in Incognito mode?
Not necessarily to Google. Incognito and Private Browsing modes are mostly designed to keep your browsing activity off of your computer so they don’t leave anything in your browser history, including cookies. However, they don’t do anything to hide your IP address, so Google can see all your searches coming from the same Internet connection. Private browsing/Incognito mode does use a fresh set of cookies, and deletes them when you are done, but while you are in Incognito Mode, your search history is completely trackable (and connected to your IP address). According to Google’s own help pages, you also need to manually log out of your google account to search privately, even if you are in Incognito mode.
Q: Won’t Google see my IP address?
No. Google will see the IP address of the Private Search servers. Private Search sends your searches from your computer through proxy servers with entirely different IP addresses. To Google, it looks like your searches are coming from us.
Q: How come I still see ads for the stuff I’ve searched for?
Private Search doesn’t block Google from putting ads in their search results nor does it change any of the search results. Google will still place ads on their site based on what you just searched for, but they won’t be based on what you’ve done or searched for before.
Q: Doesn’t this mean you have all the details about my searches?
Your search terms are sent through our servers. We are a privacy company though, so that means we don’t keep a record that can be tied with you – we don’t log your IP address or other data that can be used to identify you. We do log the fact that searches occurred, so we can know the amount of work our servers are doing.
Q: What is a Google identity?
Google wants to connect you to your online activities. They also want to be able to personalize your web experience, for instance – showing you search results that are customized based on their profile of you. To do this, of course they need to track your activities and connect it to you. This is most effective if you are logged into your Google account, which will positively combine your activities across their services such as Gmail, Youtube, Google Groups, Google Search etc. It can also synchronize your browser history and sync your settings and bookmarks across your browsers to keep your activity associated with your Google “identity”.