Ask.com places privacy policy link in home page

Ask.com has decided to include a link to its privacy policy on its home page

Ask.com has decided to put a link to its privacy policy on its home page, something that search-engine rival Google has declined to do and that has earned it criticism from privacy advocates.

As of Wednesday, Ask.com has a "privacy" link on its search engine's home page, as well as on the landing pages of most of its secondary sites -- like its specialty vertical engines for things like news and images -- thus covering almost all of its search traffic, the company said in a statement. Ask.com has also added a "conspicuous link" to its privacy policy on its "About" page.

Ask.com is also in the process of creating two search results pages that will be served up whenever people enter the queries "Ask privacy" or simply "Privacy" in the search engine. These pages will contain information and links related to online privacy in general and to Ask.com policies in particular.

In addition to distributing its statement as a press release and as an official blog posting, Ask.com is sending it to privacy organizations and advocates and to the California attorney general's office.

"No one required that we take any of these steps. We took a look at our webpages, and realized we could make some key improvements when it came to privacy links on our service. It's simply the right thing to do for the information and awareness of our users," the statement reads.

Putting a privacy policy link on their site's home page has been an industry standard practice for a long time for most Web publishers, said Brock Meeks, a spokesman for the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).

Thus, Ask.com's decision is a good one, but not an earth-shaking move that is out of the ordinary, Meeks said. "Ask.com is falling in line with industry standards," he said.

Making a site's privacy policy easy to access by putting a link to it on the home page helps users make more informed decisions regarding whether they want to frequent a site or not. "It's part of letting the user take control of their online experience," Meeks said.

Earlier this month, a group of privacy organizations sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, asking that Google include a link to its privacy policy on its home page.

In the letter, the organizations argued that posting the link on the home page is not only a good practice but also mandated by California law, which requires the operator of a commercial Web site to "conspicuously post its privacy policy on its Web site."

Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, one of the 14 organizations that signed the letter, welcomed Ask.com's decision to adopt a policy that is "consistent with those of most online businesses."

"If you check just about any corporate Web site or search engine, you'll find that their privacy policy link will be there on the very first page," Stephens said.

Other groups signing the letter included the ACLU of Northern California, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer Federation of California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the World Privacy Forum.

Last week, California State Assemblyman Joel Anderson, a Republican from San Diego, turned up the heat on the issue, telling Google in a letter that it is "in clear violation" of the California Privacy Protection Act of 2003.

Google didn't immediately reply to a request for comment on Wednesday, but in the past has said that it doesn't want to put the privacy link on its home page because the link would be unnecessary clutter in the famously minimalist page.

Yahoo and Microsoft include a privacy policy link in their respective home pages, as well as in their main search-engine pages. AOL includes the link in AOL.com but not in its search-engine home page.

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Juan Carlos Perez

Computerworld

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