How to Defend Yourself from Privacy Invasions Like AOL's Search Data Disaster

San Francisco - In the wake of AOL's publicly revealing customers' Internet search histories, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has published "Six Tips to Protect Your Online Search Privacy."

AOL's recent disclosure of its users' search logs exposed the private lives of more than a half-million customers. But all the major search engines -- not just AOL -- record search queries and maintain massive databases that reach into the most intimate details of users' lives. When revealed to others, these details can be embarrassing and even cause great harm.

In the white paper released today, EFF instructs users on how to follow six privacy tips:

* Don't put personally identifying information like your name, address, credit card number, or Social Security number in your searches.

* Don't use a search engine operated by your Internet service provider (ISP).

* Don't log in to your search engine or its related services. So, if you have accounts with services like GMail or Yahoo! Mail, don't use Google or Yahoo!'s search engines, respectively. Or, use one browser for your searches and a different browser for your other activities.

* Block "cookies" from your search engine.

* Vary your IP address.

* Use web proxies and anonymizing software that masks your IP address and other information that can be used to track you.

"These six steps provide a strong shield against the most common and probable threats to your Internet search privacy," said EFF Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley.

Protecting search privacy is a particularly acute problem because of ambiguity in current law and the lack of transparency in search providers' data logging practices. Recently, EFF asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate AOL and require changes in its privacy practices.

"Until Congress clarifies the law and strengthens protections for this sensitive data, self-defense is the best defense," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "Congress should hold hearings and demand clear answers from the search providers about how they handle search histories."

For the full white paper:

For more on the AOL data release:


Kevin Bankston
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Peter Eckersley
Staff Technologist
Electronic Frontier Foundation

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