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Ask exposes Google with new privacy focus

Lobbyists press Google for more openness

Search engine Ask.com has 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.

The new 'privacy' link is on Ask.com's home page and secondary sites, thus covering almost all of its search traffic. 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.

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.

Earlier this month, a group of privacy organisations 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 organisations 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 website to "conspicuously post its privacy policy on its website".

Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, one of the 14 organisations 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 website or search engine, you'll find that their privacy policy link will be there on the very first page," Stephens said.

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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