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Ask.com unveils anti-Google tool

'Hey! We care about privacy'

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As Google plays games with its cookies, semi-rival Ask.com is actually getting serious about privacy.

The web's fourth-leading search engine is giving web users a brand new tool that ensures their search results will not be retained by the company - at all. As the company points out, that's a first among major search engines.

Known as AskEraser, the tool isn't slated to arrive until later in the year, but Ask went ahead and announced the thing yesterday. No doubt, the company sees this as an opportune moment, with Google fighting off an ever-growing number of questions about its effect on end user privacy. At the end of May, after various privacy groups complained about Google's proposed $3.1bn acquisition of online ad firm DoubleClick, the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation, and in a recent ranking of web privacy practices, watchdog Privacy International put the search giant at the very bottom of the list.

With AskEraser, users can instantly request that their search results not be retained, and if they do so, some sort of marker pops up on their search result pages, indicating that their privacy is indeed being protected. The tool will reach the U.S. and the UK "by the end of the year," hitting other countries early next.

"AskEraser is a great solution for those looking for an additional level of privacy when they search online," said CEO Jim Lanzone. "Anonymous user data can be very useful to enhance search products for all users, and we're committed to being open and transparent about how such information is used. But we also understand that there are some who are interested in new tools that will help protect their privacy further, and we will give them that control on Ask.com." He didn't actually use the word Google - but it seems like he did.

Naturally, the Ask press release hauls out a quote from a very happy privacy advocate. "We're extremely pleased to see a new breed of innovative, competitive tools that allow users greater control over their personal information and online experiences," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director for the Center of Democracy and Technology. "With today's announcement, Ask.com has taken an important step toward giving Internet users choice in how they control sensitive information about their online activities."

According to the latest numbers from research firm comScore, Ask.com ranks fourth in U.S. search market, with a 5 per cent share, while Google is tops with 49.5 percent. AskEraser isn't likely to change those numbers all that much. But it's a very nice thing to do.®

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