Comparing Search Engine Privacy Policy Visibility

Prompted by Google’s resistance to cluttering its homepage with a link to its privacy policy, I decided to take a quick tour of the major search engines to compare the relative visibility of their privacy policies.

AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo! have visible privacy policies on both their homepages and search results page (which is especially important if you use automatic search toolbars on browsers without visiting the homepage).

Neither Ask nor Google provide direct links to their privacy policy on their homepage or results pages.

[**UPDATE**  On June 18, 2008, Ask.com added a link to its privacy policy. On July 3, 2008, Google added a link to their privacy policy on both its homepage and search results page. Details here]

Details below:

AOL

AOL search homeThe main AOL homepage includes a link to its privacy policy. The link is at the very bottom of the page (requires some scrolling) in a standard box with other corporate and legal information. It appears in a font and color that matches the other URLs on the homepage.

AOL’s search homepage, however, does not include any link to a privacy policy. This page closely follows the aesthetics of Google’s homepage, presumably since Google provides AOL’s search results. There is a somewhat prominent link to “About This Page,” which, in turn, provides a link to AOL’s privacy policy. (Presumably most users access AOL search via the main homepage, not this secondary page.)

AOL’s search results page also includes a link to the privacy policy at the very bottom of the page.

Ask

Ask search homeAsk’s homepage does not include a link to a privacy policy. Nor is there a link if you click on “About” to learn more about Ask.com (one would have to click on a light-gray link for “Terms of Service” from there to find a link to Ask’s privacy policy).

Ask’s homepage does include a small, but prominent, link to Ask Eraser in the upper right corner, which opens a small window prompting the user to turn on/off the privacy-enhancing service, and also providing links to the Ask Eraser FAQ. While this provides privacy-enhancing functions, no link to the actual privacy policy is included in these prompts.

Ask’s search results page does not include a link to its privacy policy.

Update: On June 18, 2008, Ask.com added a link to its privacy policy on the homepage, as reflected in this archived version.

Google

Google search homeGoogle’s homepage does not include a link to a privacy policy. One must click on “About Google” to find a link to its privacy policy. This link is visible at the bottom of the page (no need to scroll on standard screens), and is in a font and color that matches the other URLs on page.

Google’s search results page does not include a link to its privacy policy.

Updated 7/4/08: Google now includes a link to its privacy policy on both its homepage and search results pages. Details here.

Microsoft

Microsoft search homeMicrosoft’s Live search homepage does include a link to its privacy policy. It is a small, gray link in the bottom left corner, which is visible without scrolling in a standard screen.

Microsoft’s search results page similarly includes a link to the privacy policy.

Yahoo!

The main Yahoo! homepage includes a link to its privacy policy. The link is at the very bottom of the page (requires some scrolling) in a standard box with other corporate and legal information. It appears in a font and color that matches the other URLs on the homepage, although slightly smaller.

Yahoo search homeYahoo!’s search homepage also includes a link to its privacy policy. The link is quite small and in a light color, but still prominent.

Yahoo!’s search results page also includes a link to the privacy policy at the very bottom of the page, albeit small and in a light font.

Author: Michael Zimmer

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8 Comments

  1. let’s be honest, how many people do you think actually click and read the privacy policy ANYWHERE (shops, SEs or wherever). so, i think the people who actually want to read, can find it in the about section, whats the problem with that?

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  2. @ eric:

    Sure, folks how are already educated and concerned about their privacy might be smart enough to click through an “About” page to find a search engine’s privacy policy. But what about those who aren’t as adept on privacy concerns or the typical design of Web sites? Consider:

    1) For companies to claim to be focused on protecting user privacy, they should go out of their way to provide access to that information for all users. There is virtually zero cost to providing a direct link on the homepage to a privacy policy. I can’t think of any technical, economic, or policy reason not to have one there. Forcing people to click through some other page is an unnecessary burden (perhaps a small burden, but a burden nonetheless). If you see no problem in clicking through an “About” page, what is the tangible problem with having another small link to the policy itself?

    2) Arguments like “no one reads them anyway” are not only tenuous (do you have statistics to support that claim?), but also irrelevant. When considering providing privacy protection, we should design for the exceptions, not the norms. Consider the scenario where a user is not away of any privacy issues related to searching the Web. After processing numerous searches, she suddenly examines the screen more closely and notices a link to a privacy policy. She clicks it, and becomes more educated about the privacy issues. Without such a link present, these kinds of users would never have the opportunity to become educated users of the search service.

    Thanks for the comment.

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  3. Hi Michael,

    I’m doing some research on privacy policies and stumbled upon this blog post. I know you wrote this a while ago, so I just wanted to let you know that as far as I can tell, Ask.com now has a link to their privacy policy on the bottom of their page. Perhaps we can credit you with that change! :-)

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  4. Hi Amanda – thanks, I did notice that. I’m sure all the companies started paying more attention after the criticism Google took.

    Good luck with your research – I’d love to see your final results.

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  5. Hello,

    very interesting topic, and often ignored by user and companies. But the discussion about private data protection and not selling the adress data eg. is coming more and more in the focus.

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  6. Hey, Mike:
    How about you update this page for ask.com like you did with Google to let folks know that they have added the “privacy” link? They did it even before Google did! Give credit where credit is due…

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  7. ok, that’s all fine, but, in terms of search engines, who is top-rated in terms of protecting our privacy?

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