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Scroogle, the privacy-friendly Google scraper, has been crippled by changes to one of the dominant search engine's interface pages.

The unheralded alterations to google.com/ie yesterday could mean Scroogle has to be "permanently retired", its operator Daniel Brandt wrote.

"Over the next few days we will attempt to contact Google and determine whether the old interface is gone as a matter of policy at Google, or if they simply have it hidden somewhere and will tell us where it is so that we can continue to use it," he added.

The Register contacted Google for comment this morning but we haven't heard back.

"If we don't hear from Google by next week, I think we can all assume that Google would rather have no Scroogle, and no privacy for searchers, at all," Brandt wrote.

Brandt has been using the page to grab search results since 2002, when he set up Google Watch, an attempt by the non-profit group Public Information Research to draw more scrutiny to Google's growing influence. It complained about Google's vast mines of search data and cookie-based tracking before regulators noticed.

Brandt has also been prominent critic of Wikipedia, which Google has donated millions of dollars to.

The Scroogle search scraper acted as a proxy, hiding users' IP addresses from Mountain View, and delivering basic results pages without advertising or cross-referencing searches with Gmail. The scraper source code was released in 2005.

The interface that Scroogle scraped served up generic web search results without other services such as news search that have been added to standard Google results in recent years. The changes made yesterday redirect traffic to google.com/ie, which formerly carried a search box, to a page that suggests downloading Internet Explorer with a pre-installed Google toolbar.

"Our impression was that these results were from Google's basic algorithms, and that extra features and ads were added on top of these generic results," Brandt wrote of the old set-up.

"Three years ago Google launched 'Universal Search', which meant that they added results from other Google services on their pages. But this simple interface we were using was not affected at all."

Some Scroogle users have begun using Ixquick, a Dutch search engine that stores no search records, while Scroogle is offline.

Google's chief executive Eric Schmidt recently drew heavy criticism by summing up his own attitude to privacy as: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

Scroogle's statement is here. ®

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