News

Protected Search Lets You Use Google Without Being Tracked

1 Mar/12

With Google consolidating many of the company’s privacy policies into one came the fear that the companies primary motivation for the move was to generate even more revenue through their advertising programs than before.

Google users have only a few options at their disposal to escape the tracking. Experts suggest to log out of the account whenever it is not necessary to use a product’s functionality. A user leaving Gmail for Google Search could for instance log out to avoid the linking of searches with the Google account.

Another possibility would be to move away from Google to products that value their customer’s privacy more. For search engines, this could for instance be DuckDuckGo.

The Protected Search add-on for Firefox offers another option for Firefox users who use Google Search for some or even all of their searches. The add-on tunnels the user’s connection to hide the Internet Protocol (IP) address and location from the search engine. This itself is not different from other web proxies or proxy servers. Instead of keeping it that way, Protected Search has access to a pool of Google cookies that are randomly assigned to users when they use the service. It basically strips all the original data from identifiable information, and replaces it with one of the random identities instead.

The Protected Search system consists of a custom proxy and a Firefox Addon. The proxy works by generating a pool of Protected Search “identities,” each of which contains a cookie issued by Google and an arbitrary User-Agent for one of several popular browsers. The Firefox Addon watches for requests to Google services from your browser, and when enabled will transparently redirect all of them (except for things like Gmail) to a Protected Search proxy. There your request is stripped of all identifying information and replaced with the information from a Protected Search identity.

This “GoogleShared” request is then forwarded on to Google, and the response is proxied back to you. Your next request will get a different identity, and the one you were using before will be assigned to someone else. By “sharing” these identities, all of our traffic gets mixed together and is very difficult to analyze.

protected search

Protected Search is automatically enabled after installation. The add-on redirects all search queries to Google’s encrypted search engine. Users who are logged in will be logged out as cookies are replaced when the traffic is routed through the proxy.

The Google Search page indicates if the search is anonymized by Protected Search. Another indicator is added to the browser’s status bar. This indicator acts as a switch to turn the feature on or off.

Firefox users can download Protected Search from the Abine website. Abine has also created the Do Not Track Plus add-on, and other privacy focused tools to improve the privacy of users on the Internet.

Protected Search was previously known as GoogleSharing, a popular add-on that is still listed in the Mozilla Add-ons gallery.

Addendum: You obviously need to trust the proxy provider to value your privacy and security.

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