Disconnect is one of our very favorite privacy enhancing Firefox extensions, using an always up-to-date database to block third party tracking cookies and give users control of over a website’s elements. Well, the company behind the popular browser extension has now released Disconnect Search (it is recently out of beta), as a way to make web searches encrypted and private.
The problem is that web searches are usually not private, and search engines, including Google (in fact particularly Google), store information about you whenever you make a search, including:
- Users IP address
- Date and time of query
- Query search terms
- Cookie ID – this cookie is deposited in your browser’s cookie folder, and uniquely identifies your computer. With it, a search engine provider can trace a search request back to your computer
This information is usually transmitted to the requested web page, and to the owners of any third party advertising banners displayed on that page. As you surf around the internet, advertisers build up a (potentially embarrassing or highly inaccurate) profile of you, which is then used to target adverts tailored to your theoretical needs.
In addition to this, governments and courts around the world regularly request search data from Google and other major search engines, which is usually duly handed over.
One way to keep searches private is to use a search engine that does not track you, such as DuckDuckGo or StartPage (formerly Ixquick), or you can use Disconnect Search, a specialized VPN that lets you search privately using your favourite search engine (by default Google, Bing, Yahoo, and even DuckDuckGo for very high levels of privacy).
It works by encrypting queries (so your ISP can not see then), and then routing them through its own servers where they are anonymized before being passed on to the desired search engine, which will only see the request coming from Disconnect Search’s IP.
Disconnect Search is free, but a donation is requested.