SOURCE: Unspam Technologies, Inc.

August 21, 2006 15:47 ET

LostintheCrowd.org Keeps Search Engines Guessing

Searchers Can Hide What They Really Care About and Protect Their Identity

PARK CITY, UT -- (MARKET WIRE) -- August 21, 2006 -- Unspam Technologies, Inc., a Utah-based anti-spam firm, today officially unveiled a new service (www.lostinthecrowd.org) to keep search engines guessing as to the real preferences of their users. The traditional advice given to maintain your privacy online is to regularly delete the "cookies" from your browser. Lost in the Crowd takes a different, and somewhat antithetical, approach. The free service lets users register the tracking cookies from their favorite search engines. Lost in the Crowd then runs random queries at random intervals from its servers. Because the service has the users' tracking cookies, the queries appear to come from the users using the actual search engine themselves.

"It's as if you had a bunch of monkeys running searches on your behalf," explained Eric Langheinrich, CTO of Unspam. "While search engines would still see your real searches, it would be hard for them, or anyone who may subpoena their data, to separate those searches you care about from those the monkeys randomly typed in. Your identity, in any meaningful way, becomes 'lost in the crowd.'"

Searches you run tell a lot about who you are, unless they are not actually run by you. Imagine an account that had run the following searches:

     Disneyland Vacation             Apache http.conf
     Boston Restaurants              Chicago homes near the loop
     Free iPod Music                 www.yahoo.com
     Paris Hilton's New Album        Business Finance Software
If you know these searches were run by a real user it becomes possible to develop a fairly robust profile of that user. But if a handful of searches are made up, the profile becomes blurry. Is the user a teen into pop music or an adult starting a new business? Are they technically sophisticated or a newbie? Do they live in Boston or Chicago? Any "signal" that would reveal identity is quickly lost in the "noise" of the random searches.

The LostintheCrowd.org service was inspired by the release of search engine user data by AOL. The service currently supports users getting lost in AOL, Ask.com, Google, MSN, and Yahoo's crowds. Unspam has no intent to monetize the service or otherwise use the data. Instead Mr. Langheinrich said he hoped that it would serve as a "proof of concept" and inspire more people to think about their privacy when they are online.

Contact Information