LONDON Jan 28 Search-engine company Startpage
launched a service allowing users concerned about privacy to
carry out Web searches and click on linked pages without being
identified, tracked or recorded.
Unlike mainstream search engines that gather commercially
valuable information about user behaviour, privately held
Startpage (www.startpage.com) has focused on privacy since 2005.
Startpage -- also known as Ixquick outside the United States
and Britain -- had already offered private searching, but users
would leave the company's protection when they clicked on a
search result and entered a third-party website.
The new service offers use of a Startpage proxy that means
the user is invisible to all websites, though pages load more
slowly since Startpage must first retrieve the contents and then
"My wake-up call came last year," says Katherine Albrecht,
who runs U.S. media relations and marketing for Startpage and
who says she noticed Google Inc (GOOG.O) had installed a
programme monitoring users who typed in terms indicating they
had influenza -- and was sharing the information with the U.S.
Center for Disease Control.
"I had been a privacy advocate for 10 years, but even so I
was using Google just like everybody else," she said.
The chief executive of Google, which dominates the global
Web search market, outraged critics last month with comments in
a TV interview. "If you have something that you don't want
anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first
place," Eric Schmidt said in a interview on news channel CNBC.
"The reality is that search engines, including Google, do
retain this information for some time," he said. "We are all
subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible
that that information could be made available to the
In 2006, however, Google was the only major search engine to
reject a U.S. Justice Department subpoena to hand over data,
saying the demand violated the privacy of users' searches and
its own trade secrets.
Rivals Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Yahoo Inc (YHOO.O)
complied. Startpage does not keep information about its users on
file, so it could not be forced to hand anything over.
Startpage says it has been profitable for the last five
years. It is funded by advertising including sponsored links
that are matched to the content of Websites and searches, but
not to user profiles.
Startpage, which was founded in New York and is owned by
private Dutch company Surfboard Holding BV, does not publish
user numbers but says it had served over 1.2 billion searches as
of December 2009.
It also competes with Infospace's INSP.O Dogpile,
WebCrawler and MetaCrawler in metasearch, or returning results
from multiple search engines. It is also exploring ways to offer
(Editing by David Holmes)