LAWFUEL – Price wars are public blessings. Ask anyone who has comparis…

LAWFUEL – Price wars are public blessings. Ask anyone who has comparison shopped between Advanced Micro Devices and Intel microprocessors or bought a cheap Harry Potter novel thanks to fierce bookseller price battles.

In the last few months, the search engine business has experienced its own version of cutthroat competition: a privacy policy war, with Google, and Microsoft vying to outdo one another in protecting their users’ personal information.

But it’s been difficult to make direct comparisons, in part because privacy policies tend to be written by lawyers for lawyers. So CNET did some of the work for you by surveying the five leading search companies.

Starting on August 6, we asked them eight questions, including how long they retain search data, how they eventually dispose of it, whether they engage in behavioral targeting, and whether they use information they have from user sign-ups to guide which ads are displayed. We asked follow-ups where necessary for clarification.

The verbatim results of the survey are posted in an accompanying story.

The answers suggest that, based on the questions we asked, was the most protective of user privacy. In fact, only said it would not record what users type into its search engine. (Smaller search engines, including ixquick, said this as well, but we limited our survey to the five largest engines.) also said it did not engage in behavioral targeting, which refers to the practice of offering advertisements based on previous searches.

And the rest? Results were mixed. Google avoids behavioral targeting, but after 18 months it performs a partial anonymization of users’ Internet Protocol addresses–an action that’s not terribly privacy protective. Google dominates the search market: 53 percent of U.S. Web searches in June were performed on its site, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

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