Protected Search Lets You Use Google Without Being Tracked - gHacks Tech News

Protected Search Lets You Use Google Without Being Tracked

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.

Advertisement

We need your help

Advertising revenue is falling fast across the Internet, and independently-run sites like Ghacks are hit hardest by it. The advertising model in its current form is coming to an end, and we have to find other ways to continue operating this site.

We are committed to keeping our content free and independent, which means no paywalls, no sponsored posts, no annoying ad formats or subscription fees.

If you like our content, and would like to help, please consider making a contribution:


Previous Post: «
Next Post: »

Comments

  1. Gary said on March 1, 2012 at 10:15 pm
    Reply

    Thanks so much for this info!

    Since the demise of Scroogle, I have been unable to use Google. And although I use DuckDuckGo as my default search engine, I do find it helpful from time to time to be able to conduct a Google search.

    Have you analyzed Protected Search at all with Fiddler? Is it a well-behaving add-on?

  2. berttie said on March 1, 2012 at 10:56 pm
    Reply

    @Gary

    Try Start Page, it acts as an intermediary between you and Google and hides your details, just as Scroogle did.

    Search: https://www.startpage.com
    Privacy FAQ: https://startpage.com/eng/protect-privacy.html

    1. WebHybrid said on March 1, 2012 at 11:16 pm
      Reply

      I am going to try out this new Abine service (having liked DoNotTrackPlus for some time). If you (all) see no further squawks from me, then my #1 question has been resolved: will this one slow things down much?

      My other wondering was whether searches that did not involve using a Google start page would get scrambled as described. It seems from Abine’s explanation page that the answer is yes.

      Almost all my searching is done from the Firefox search bar or – which amounts to the same – a right-context menu slide. Or it could be via a Google-search field on some web page. So although the now-defunct Scroogle and the suggested Start Page may be just fine, they are too limited for people with habits like mine.

      Thanks so much – again – to Martin for putting this out. It would have taken months for me to stumble on it elsewhere.

      1. WebHybrid said on March 5, 2012 at 7:24 pm
        Reply

        Alrighty then, now that I’ve had this add-on a few days… squawk… fail.

        At first it seemed fine. But now – even with an update that showed up – it turned out to be the cause of all kinds of problems both on Google sites and elsewhere – page loads would hang and then fail. As soon as I disabled it: back to my nice snappy Firefox.

        Thanks anyway – not interested in its minutiae enough to entertain a fix for it.

  3. Transcontinental said on March 1, 2012 at 11:09 pm
    Reply

    I’ve just tested ‘Protected Search’ Firefox add-on. Two points :

    1- Works fine, but not with google.fr at least, whilst google.com for sure ;
    2- Requires cookies allowed for google.com (the add-on works on that basis in fact)

    I use google.fr, though google.com is no problem but anyway with cookies not allowed I always fall back to google.fr

    The advantage for me was rather having my IP hidden. I guess I’ll stick with DuckDuckGo which is more than alternative, it is a search engine of its own, with many interesting specificities. There is also indeed starpage.com which is google powered.

    Perhaps i’ll call Google for images and maps mainly, and when visiting youtube, even if Dailymotion IMO is far more interesting and well built than youtube, nicer GUI and makes you feel in a restaurant rather than in a MacDo … :)

    1. Crodol said on March 1, 2012 at 11:19 pm
      Reply

      I also like DuckDuckGo.com but what about the local versions, like .fr for searching for French terms (or for getting hits on French Wikipedia)? How do you solve that issue with DDG?

      1. Transcontinental said on March 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm
        Reply

        DuckDuckGo has many options available among which language preference. These options may be held in a cookie or recalled in the command-line, for instance I use :
        https://duckduckgo.com/?ke=-1&kf=-1&kj=b2&kk=-1&kl=fr-fr&kn=1&kp=-1&kw=w&k1=-1&k7=%23E0E0E0&k8=%23000000&k9=%230000FF

        That sets the language, interface, fonts, open in new tab and many more available. It’s just adequate :)

  4. geeknik said on March 2, 2012 at 2:56 am
    Reply

    If Google was serious about security and privacy, they wouldn’t be tracking or logging me while I’m connected via HTTPS to their site(s).

  5. Doc said on March 2, 2012 at 3:17 am
    Reply

    “Another indicator is added to the browser’s status bar.” This doesn’t really help, as in FF8+ the status bar is turned off by default.

  6. boris said on March 2, 2012 at 5:34 am
    Reply

    Tried it when it was GoogleSharing. Did not work so well then. Constant questions from Google: “Are you machine? type password now.”

  7. Vicent said on March 2, 2012 at 10:52 am
    Reply

    Protected Search sounds very useful.
    I mainly use chrome firefox and Avant browser these three. but from now on,I will exclude chrome from them and mainly use firefox and avant browser with firefox rendeirng engine.
    Goolge is too strong.

  8. Brian said on March 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm
    Reply

    Try this one it tell you who is tracking you,
    All so stops them
    for this page…4 companies tracking you:

  9. Brian said on March 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm
    Reply

    Sorry forgot the program
    Do not track plus..

  10. Sukhen said on March 2, 2012 at 7:56 pm
    Reply

    If I use DuckDuckGo with %s at Chrome, will I be tracked by Google? As such, I use HTTPS ANYWHERE, DNT Plus and ProxMate also in Chrome.

  11. doctor said on March 3, 2012 at 11:36 pm
    Reply

    I tried turning “protected search 0.5” on and get
    The proxy server is refusing connections

    Firefox is configured to use a proxy server that is refusing connections.

    Check the proxy settings to make sure that they are correct.
    Contact your network administrator to make sure the proxy server is
    working.

    irrespective of FF proxy setting, including no proxy. cookies are on, third party cookies off. and FF is actually working fine for other URL, Bing etc.

    Turn protected search
    off, and google search works again. Guess they don’t like the scrambling. But then protected search is not doing much for you – might as well just just not use google.

Leave a Reply

Check the box to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy

Please note that your comment may not appear immediately after you post it.