Google search anonymizer up and running again

Scroogle blocks Google from collecting IP addresses and search terms

A service that allows Google's search engine to be used anonymously is running again after a code change briefly knocked it down.

Scroogle allows people to use Google's search engine without the company recording their search terms with their real IP (Internet protocol) address. Google's search results are proxied through a Scroogle server and only sees Scroogle's IP address.

Privacy activists contend that connecting IP addresses with search queries -- done by all major search engine companies -- poses privacy and security concerns. Google anonymizes the last octet of the IP address after nine months, but many argue that level of anonymization doesn't go far enough.

For Scroogle, search results were "scraped," or automatically copied, from a specific Google search Web page (google.com/ie) designed to deliver results to people using Microsoft's outdated Internet Explorer 6 browser with the Google search toolbar.

The page was particularly suited for Scroogle, as it presented clean search results without ads and Google's universal search feature, which brings up other items such as news stories and YouTube videos, said Daniel Brandt, president of the nonprofit Public Information Research group and who runs Scroogle with donations.

But Google suddenly changed that page earlier this week in an effort to get people to upgrade to newer versions of Internet Explorer.

The change by Google didn't appear to be intentional, but it broke Scroogle. Google decline to comment directly on Scroogle, saying in an e-mail statement that "due to significant decrease in usage, we discontinued this interface and are encouraging searchers to upgrade their browser."

Due to Scroogle's popularity, Brandt said he received dozens of e-mails with suggestions for how Scroogle could continue to efficiently scrape the search results despite the change.

Most of the suggestions weren't good, Brandt said. But three users came up with a way to inject a different parameter into the query sent onto Google, which would then return clean results for scraping.

Brandt said Scroogle was born out of his frustration with Google's transition from an "intellectual technical enterprise" dedicated to search in the early days to a big company heavily focused on making money through advertising.

Brandt said he doesn't have any ads on Scroogle. Many of its users are outside of the U.S., and Scroogle can be used in 28 languages.

Scroogle receives around 325,000 queries a day, just a tiny fraction of the more than one billion queries Google's search engine receives on a daily basis, Brandt said.

Mass use of Scroogle would have the potential to return inaccurate data to Google, which Google contends it needs to improve its search engine.

Brandt said Google could have intentionally blocked Scroogle long ago, but that the company likely doesn't regard him any more than a "fly speck."

"They're probably trying to figure out what to do with me," Brandt said.

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Jeremy Kirk

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