Web PM

Tool Generates Fake Searches for Privacy

People PC | August 31 2006

NEW YORK - 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 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: http://mrl.nyu.edu/(tilde)dhowe/TrackMeNot

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