Did Jeeves Rat Out the Google Twins?

It almost feels like a scene from a British period drama: Jeeves, the butler, spies impetuous lads Larry and Sergey snooping around the guest quarters. A brief conversation with the tea-sipping master of the house ensues, and after an ear-pulling sojourn up the stairs, the swats begin.

How much they'll hurt is a matter of perspective. On Tuesday, Ask.com parent IAC/InterActiveCorp (Nasdaq: IACI  ) announced a plan to give users privacy controls called "AskEraser," which would effectively protect their searches from prying eyes.

Neither CEO Barry Diller nor his appointed lieutenants are saying whether the move is directed at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , but only the terminally stupid would assume it isn't. Quoting product management chief Doug Leeds in an interview with the AP: "We definitely want to stand out from the other guys. This level of control is unprecedented and unmatched."

I'll say. Google keeps search data for 18 months. So does Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) . Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) AOL store searches for 13 months. AskEraser, by contrast, can make data disappear in a few hours.

Well, sort of.

Since Ask.com relies on Google to serve it with targeted ads, searches originated at Ask may still be stored at DoubleGoo. For 18 months.

Enter the tattling butler.

The danger here for Google is that users and privacy advocates could demand that "erased" searches be completely purged -- as in, "from all servers touching the original request." If so, it could present both business problems (less relevant demographic data) and technical woes (tighter integration of servers over a dispersed network).

But Diller can let Larry and Sergey worry about that; he's busy playing the hero. The champion of the little guy. The one who, with just 3% of the search market, had to do something drastic to tip the scales in his favor.

(Tip.)

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