Tool stops search engines gathering your data

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Just a day after Google said it was to let users see the information it gathers on them, a team of Catalan researchers has announced a new protocol to stop search engines capturing the information in the first place.

"It is a model based on cryptographic tools which distort the profile of users when they use search engines on the internet in such a way that their privacy is preserved," said Alexandre Viejo, a researcher at the Computer Engineering Department of the Rovira i Virgili University.

Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Live search save the profiles of their users via an analysis of the searches they undertake), arguing that it makes them more familiar with their interests and lets them offer a more efficient response. But many are concerned about privacy.Who's watching?

There currently exist types of software which provide anonymous navigation, such as the Tor network, but the new system is claimed to offer a clear improvement in response time. Viejo acknowledges that the new protocol does delay searches slightly, but says this is barely noticeable.

The prototype has already been tried out in both research centre intranets and open internet environments. The results "allow us to be optimistic with the global implementation of the model," say the researchers. They are now working on a final user version, and say they trust that it will soon be easily integrated into the main platforms and browsers.

The full study appears in Computer Communications magazine.