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Ask.com Won't Tell

New privacy control feature in search engine lets users ensure their requests get automatically purged, not stored

Search engine Ask.com today has added a new feature called AskEraser that deletes a user's search activity from its servers within hours, rather than the standard 18-month period.

Stored search data has become a concern among some security and privacy experts who worry about the potential for the data to be stolen by hackers or subpoenaed in legal proceedings. "We definitely want to stand out from the other guys," said Doug Leeds, Ask.com's senior vice president of product management, in an interview with the Associated Press. "This level of control is unprecedented and unmatched."

Google and other search engine providers maintain search results in their databases for over a year both for targeted ads and for providing more "meaningful" search results, and say the data is secured.

But Ask.com says the user should have the power to control how his or her search history is used. "When enabled, AskEraser will completely delete your search queries and data from Ask.com servers, including: your IP address, User ID and Session ID cookies, as well as the complete text of your search query--all within a matter of hours," according to Ask.com's Website.

AskEraser works across Ask.com's other sections, including Images, News, Blogs, Videos, and Maps & Directions, and can be turned on or off at any time by the user.

There is one catch, however. Some data about search requests will still land on Google's servers when AskEraser is enabled because Google delivers many of the ad links on Ask.com's pages, Leeds told the AP. Ask.com is No. 5 among the U.S. search engines, with Google as the undisputed No. 1 player with 55 percent of the market, according to Nielsen Online.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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