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Scroogle scrapes back to life

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Scroogle is back, once again serving up privacy-friendly Google search results, a day after a sudden change to google.com shut down the swashbuckling service.

The not-for-profit Scroogle stopped working on Monday, when Mountain View removed the interface page - google.com/ie - where it was scraping search results. Speaking with The Reg on Tuesday morning, Scroogle operator Daniel Brandt said he expected the service could not be revived because no other Google interface allowed him to scrape results so easily.

But by Tuesday evening, thanks to some help from a trio of Scroogle users, Brandt was able to replicate his setup via another page - google.com/search - by adding an extra parameter ("&output=ie") to the url. "It appears that both methods," Brandt says, meaning the old and the new, "amount to the same thing."

Google did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the fate of Scroogle, but the company told The Wall Street Journal the removal of google.com/ie was unrelated to the search scraper. According to the Google spokesman speaking with The Journal, google.com/ie was meant to operate from inside the sidebar offered by Internet Explorer 6, and it was removed as part of Google's continuing efforts to remove all support for the aging Microsoft browser.

If you installed the Google Toolbar with IE6 and chose Google as the default search engine, google.com/ie would provide search results in the window that popped up on the side of the browser. These results needed to be simple, the company spokesman said, because the sidebar is small. Via the interface, Brandt was able to scrape generic results without the text ads and so-called universal search results that typically appear on Google's primary results page.

"Due to significant decrease in usage, we discontinued this interface and are encouraging searchers to upgrade their browser,” the Google spokesman told The Journal. Earlier this year, Google announced that several of its services, including YouTube, Google Docs, and Google Sites, will no longer support IE6 and additional services, including Gmail and Google Calender, will lose support before the end of the year.

Brandt contacted Google in an effort to determine why it had turned off the interface and to ask whether search results could be scraped in some other way, but the company has yet to respond.

Brandt is a longtime critic of Google's data collection policies, and Scroogle exists so that web users can search Google without the company tracking their behavior. According to Brandt, at least certain parts of the Google have long been aware of his service - in some cases, he's actually received help from inside the company to keep the service going - and if some Googlers weren't aware of it, this week's turn of events goes a long way towards changing that.

The question now is how long Brandt will be allowed to scrape results from google.com/search. Currently, Scroogle handles about 325,000 searches a day - but this number climbs significantly when media reports on some big name tech company eroding user privacy. Scroogle searches went up, for instance, when Mountain View launched Google Buzz. ®

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