Most people might not give a second thought to what they type into Google, but those queries can reveal a lot. Take, for example, searches for STDs, data for which can be leaked to third parties. Furthermore, such queries can be linked to existing profiles, giving companies, like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, a more comprehensive view of their users.
To combat this, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Disconnect released an Android app Monday that strips user data from search queries. Furthermore, Disconnect Search will be available as a browser extension for Internet Explorer and Safari, in addition to Firefox and Chrome, which launched in October.
Designed by former Google and NSA engineers, Disconnect is known for its browser plug-ins that block traffic from third-party sites to certain servers, like Facebook. "Very quickly, we realized the other thing people were concerned about were their search histories being tracked," cofounder Casey Oppenheim told Fast Company. Disconnect is also prominently featured on the new security-minded Blackphone as its default search provider.
By routing search queries through Disconnect's servers, people can continue to use their favorite search engines, with the queries appearing as though they're coming directly from Disconnect. The company says it doesn't log keywords, personal information, or IP addresses. The searches are also encrypted, so they can't be seen by Internet service providers and other snooping parties. Thus far, the company has monetized with a pay-what-you-want model, though it's also experimented with paid products, like a privacy-oriented app geared toward kids (since made free). With 1.5 million active users, Oppenheim says Disconnect will make money when it doubles its current base.