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Recently Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, said in an interview “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”.
There are a variety of circumstances in which a person would want some degree of privacy for perfectly legitimate reasons. If a person wants to search for homeopathic remedies for hemorrhoids, it is really nobody else’s damned business, well, except for Google’s. If a person wants to look up more information about a medication, it isn’t anyone else’s business, well, except for Google’s. If a person wants to write a science fiction novel and wants to learn more about nuclear power, encryption, cryptography, stenography, and other technologies, it’s their business, and Schmidt seems to think they shouldn’t be doing it if they don’t want other people to know about it.
Schmidt does go on to give some accurate information that everyone should know and understand. “…but if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines, including Google, do retain this information for some time…”
The way that some of your privacy is compromised when you search for something is that the search engines not only retain what the search was for, but also what IP address the search came from. If you don’t want them to know link the search to your IP address you can use an anonymizing service. There are both free and paid solutions for this.
Do bear in mind that the entities providing the anonymizing often have logs and in some cases it is possible to still correlate the data. There really is virtually no completely anonymous way to surf the web. There are ways to be almost anonymous, but unless you are highly skilled, you wouldn’t want to bet that you have privacy and anonymity.
Still, Schmidt’s comments do show a fundamental lack of respect for privacy, but then Google doesn’t make their money by keeping your searches private. Ironic that Gmail is the only major webmail service that allows for encrypted communications when you are reading your email. This is a significantly good step in the direction privacy. It may not keep the NSA out of your inbox, but it does help prevent the person sitting near you in the coffee shop form reading your email.
Director of Technical Education
Author ESET Research, ESET