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Digital Destiny » Blog Archive » Ask.com new Privacy Policy: We need Federal Rules for all—not just one imperfect corporate plan

Ask.com new Privacy Policy: We need Federal Rules for all—not just one imperfect corporate plan

Barry Diller’s Ask.com has unveiled a new service called “AskEraser” that is designed to help address some of the privacy problems intrinsic to digital marketing. It’s also an effort to gain some attention for a search service long under the interactive shadow of its competitors–especially Google. Ask only receives approximately 5% of searches, compared to Google’s nearly 65%, according to Hitwise. But Ask’s new plan is more in response to the building pressure for government safeguards growing in North American and in the E.U. Without the growing call for policies and the various efforts to force the FTC to start paying more attention to consumer privacy (such as our series of complaints that led to the recent “town hall”), companies such as Ask would not readily try to differentiate themselves by being more privacy-focused. Although we do applaud its move. But there are glaring problems that underscore why the U.S. requires a single national policy designed to protect all of our digital information.

For example, Ask’s recent $3.5 billion deal with Google for search display advertising would allow the search giant to gain access to some of the data. There are also some critically important exceptions to what AskEraser can do. For example, in its revised privacy policy, Ask explains (our emphasis):

“Third Party Service Providers. Some elements on the Sites, such as news content, our Smart Answers, or the sponsored links advertising on our search results pages, are supplied to us by third parties under contract. In those cases, we may supply some information we gather from you to those third-parties so that they can provide those elements for display on the Sites. Information that we may share with third parties is: (a) your Internet Protocol (IP) address; (b) the address of the last URL you visited prior to clicking through to the Site; (c) your browser and platform type (e.g., a Netscape browser on a Macintosh platform); (d) your browser language; (e) the data in any undeleted cookies that your browser previously accepted from us and (f) the search queries you submit. For example, when you submit a query we transmit it (and some of the related information described above) to our paid listing providers in order to obtain relevant advertising to display in response to your query. We may merge information about you into group data, which may then be shared on an aggregated basis with our advertisers. If you provide us with answers to voluntary survey questions, we may present this information to our advertisers and partners in the form of grouped statistics compiled from our users’ answers to such questions. These third party companies have their own policies as to record keeping and data retention. Even if AskEraser is enabled, your search activity will not automatically be deleted from the servers of these third party companies.”

Some privacy advocates suggest that this announcement shows the “market” is working. No doubt, that’s what Google and the other online advertisers opposed to a serious privacy policy will echo, whispering it to regulators, lawmakers and journalists. Self-regulation, especially with loopholes and exceptions, is no replacement for meaningful consumer protection for all Americans. That’s why a national privacy policy is required.

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