A search query is a term a user enters into a search engine to satisfy information needs. When a user records the path of the queries and the information they lead to, it is referred to as a search trail. The trails themselves are searchable, allowing users to save time when searching by examining pages found by other users. The intention is also to allow easier searching of the web. An application that lets users record search trails is Trexy, which installs itself as a toolbar and records the user’s activity on search sites it is aware of. However, some major sites such as Google, AOL, Yahoo and MSN are all collecting data from users. All of this search engines are monitoring and storing your searches along with other such data as your behaviour while online. This information may in some cases, not only been seen by those involved with your favourite search engine but also in many cases, third parties. Some sites such as Ask.com allow users to delete data on search queries to bolster personal privacy. Called AskEraser, it deletes all subsequent search queries and related information linked to a user’s cookies or identifying information from computers. It’s featured on the site’s home page and all search results pages, with a clear choice to signal whether the feature should be “On” or “Off” during a user’s search requests.
Another option is to hide your search in a cloud of “ghost queries”. A Firefox add-on called TrackMeNot does just that. On installing, it will show up in your status bar with certain search queries. These will be sent to search engines faking them out as to where you are really going or what you are searching for while online. You can disable the display if you so desire. The same options are also available from the Tools menu of the browser. You can also set the Search Engines that TrackMeNot queries, queries to be set, query frequency and the logging options for the performed queries. Keep in mind that if third parties are using other means to identify you, such as through IP addresses and information from your ISP, TrackMeNot will be of little use. However, in terms of identifying you through searches alone, TrackMeNot potentially makes this a lot more difficult for third parties.