Firefox plugin generates fake searches to protect privacy

By Justin Mann on August 30, 2006, 6:24 PM
As people become more aware of search companies practices of caching search data and using it for market research, along with its potential dangers, they look for ways to protect themselves. In whatever abstract fashion we can, there are security tools out there of all sorts. A recent article on a Firefox plugin that generates random searches caught my attention. In essence, to making it more difficult for you to be tracked and to help conceal your true searches, “TrackMeNot” will by default generate a fake search every 12 seconds:

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 [ .. ] 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.
If you are interested in the plugin itself, you can visit TrackMeNot's website. They make no bones about why they made the plugin:

We are disturbed by the idea that search inquiries are systematically monitored and stored by corporations like AOL, Yahoo!, Google, etc. and may even be available to third parties. Because the Web has grown into such a crucial repository of information and our search behaviors profoundly reflect who we are, what we care about, and how we live our lives, there is reason to feel they should be off-limits to arbitrary surveillance.
While many people don't care, a lot do. Enough that this plugin may actually become quite popular. I wonder what the search companies would feel about a plugin like this, assuming it ever was used en masse.

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