Spy-free searching


If you’re uncomfortable with Google snooping and storing all your searches, try StartPage.

It gives you Google search results without them tracking and recording every search term you enter.

In operation it’s very simple and functions just like a regular search engine, except that your query goes via StartPage in Europe. There, identifying information such as your IP address is stripped off and the search is sent on. In the blink of an eye the results are then returned to you, but as far as Google’s concerned the search query came from Europe. In short, “Your IP address is never recorded, your visit is not logged, and no tracking cookies are placed on your browser.”

Check out 10 Ways StartPage Helps You Take Back Your Privacy for more details.

Why should you be concerned about your searches? Just take a look the information Google captures and stores. It’s all spelled out in their Privacy Policy. Some snippets …

We may collect device-specific information (such as your hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information including phone number). Google may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account…. we may automatically collect and store certain information in server logs. This may include:

  • details of how you used our service, such as your search queries.
  • telephony log information like your phone number, calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information and types of calls.
  • Internet protocol address.
  • device event information such as crashes, system activity, hardware settings, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and referral URL.
  • cookies that may uniquely identify your browser or your Google Account.

What all that adds up to over time is a detailed and intimate portrait of who you are, what you’re interested in and what you’re concerned about.

And it you still doubt you can be identified by search terms alone, think again. Back in 2006 AOL released 20 million anonymised search queries. Within hours the New York Times had identified one user:

No. 4417749 conducted hundreds of searches over a three-month period on topics ranging from “numb fingers” to “60 single men” to “dog that urinates on everything.”

And search by search, click by click, the identity of AOL user No. 4417749 became easier to discern. There are queries for “landscapers in Lilburn, Ga,” several people with the last name Arnold and “homes sold in shadow lake subdivision gwinnett county georgia.”

It did not take much investigating to follow that data trail to Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow who lives in Lilburn, Ga., frequently researches her friends’ medical ailments and loves her three dogs. “Those are my searches,” she said, after a reporter read part of the list to her.


So, still think you’re anonymous …?



Care for a carcinogen?

hazard icon

Will your mobile give you cancer? The IARC say “possibly”. But so might work and other fun stuff.


The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is often cited as a source of possible carcinogens because they produce a series of monographs on the subject. These are divided into five separate groupings:

Group 1     Carcinogenic to humans
Group 2A    Probably carcinogenic to humans
Group 2B    Possibly carcinogenic to humans
Group 3     Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans
Group 4     Probably not carcinogenic to humans

Only one substance — caprolactam — has ever made it to Group 4.

Group 1 (Carcinogenic) has some known nasties such as;

  • Ionizing radiation (all types)
  • Plutonium
  • Tobacco smoking

along with one or two surprises like;

  • Engine exhaust, diesel
  • Leather dust
  • Salted fish, Chinese-style
  • Wood dust

Group 2A (Probably carcinogenic) has a couple of interesting inclusions;

  • Hairdresser or barber (occupational exposure as a)
  • Shiftwork that involves circadian disruption

Group 2B (Possibly carcinogenic) contains;

  • Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields

along with a footnote saying, “Includes radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from wireless phones.”

But before you get too excited, this group also includes;

  • Bracken fern
  • Dry cleaning (occupational exposures in)
  • Engine exhaust, gasoline
  • Ginkgo biloba extract

and — shock! horror!

  • Coffee (urinary bladder)

The murkiness of some of this stuff is summed up in a second parenthesis beside that entry. Coffee might cause urinary bladder cancer, but it might also save you from bowel cancer. The note adds: “There is some evidence of an inverse relationship between coffee drinking and cancer of the large bowel.”

So where does that leave you? Probably/Possibly confused.

Of course, the last word carcinogenicity has to go to Britain’s Daily Mail where you can be assured that everything — and I mean everything – can cause cancer. This blog provides a helpful index. It’s all in there: soup, tea, sex, sausages, skiing, even water has been reported as carcinogenic.

Or perhaps you’d rather just listen to Dan & Dan …