Friday, June 20, 2008 agrees with Google's critics, issues new privacy safeguards

Number 5 search engine has issued an open letter agreeing with the sentiments of privacy buffs while also rolling out new user privacy safeguards for its own platform.

As previously reported, a letter sent to Google in early June by a privacy coalition that includes the Electronic Privacy Center and the Electronic Frontier Foundation contends that "Google's reluctance to post a link to its privacy [policy] on its home page is alarming."

Now, in an open letter to the Web Community and users, partly in response to advocacy groups' sharp criticisms of Google's treatment of privacy policies, officials are saying they agree with the coalition's argument that making Web links to privacy policies more accessible and conspicuous represents "a commitment by a commercial Web site to inform users about the company's privacy practices."

In an e-mail dated June 18,'s management also outlined plans to expand on actions already taken toward user privacy protection.

"At Ask, we take our commitment to user privacy and data protection very seriously," according to the e-mail. In December of 2007, Ask released a tool called Eraser, which gives users a one-click process for deleting their own data from Ask servers, the officials pointed out.

"Now we're going several steps further. As of today, has added a direct link to our privacy policy via a 'Privacy' link prominently placed right on our homepage," the letter continues. "Ask has also added a conspicuous link to our privacy policy right on our Ask 'About' page, which is one click off our homepage."

In addition, now in the works are new "Smart Answer" search results pages. "When a user goes to and types in 'Ask Privacy' or 'Privacy' in the search box, they will get served up a specially designed, robust, and comprehensive results page that is a one-stop shop of answers on both Ask's privacy policies and actions (including AskEraser), as well as on privacy policies in general," according to the open letter.

The e-mail from Ask does not mention search industry leader Google specifically, instead referencing a letter sent several weeks ago by privacy advocates to an unnamed "major company in the search marketplace."

In that letter, no fewer than 14 advocacy groups openly asked Google to post its privacy policy directly from its home page so as to assure compliance with the California Online Privacy Act. The five-year-old California state law requires any commercial Web site that collects personal information about users to "conspicuously post its privacy policy on its Web site."

At BetaNews' press time, Ask spokespersons were unavailable to provide information as to when the new "Smart Answer" pages are expected to be ready on

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