CFG.Search

(That's "Cookie-Free Google Search")

So you want to search on Google without sending those - evil? - cookies, and hopefully not ever have to deal with situations like this one? (Other links to that story here, here and here - or simply search Google for "User 4417749")

Then, if you use the Firefox browser, we have a Firefox extension that might help you out a bit.

Table of contents

What is a cookie

If you don't know what a cookie is, start by reading this or this.

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What kind of cookies does Google use?

In a very broad way, Google mainly uses three kinds of cookies:

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So what's the big deal

The deal, big or otherwise, is that whenever you do a search in Google, unless you've completely disabled cookies when accessing Google web sites, Google can keep track of what you've been searching for.

So if you don't want Google to associate what you search to your Google account, or you simply, don't want them to be grouped as "user XYZ searches", the best thing you could do is to disable cookies associated to all of Google's domains.

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What's the problem if I disable Google cookies

Well, if you often use other Google services, whenever you want/need to access them, you have to re-login.

Also, if you've set some search preferences, by not allowing Google cookies, you're left with the default preferences.

That means that if you're checking your GMail mail, and then wish to do a Google search, you'd need to go to your browser preferences, delete and disable cookies for the Google domains, do your search, and when you're done, relogin to your GMail account - and be careful not to do a new Google search without repeating the process!

Would anyone actually go through that trouble for every search they do?

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So what do you have for me

We have a simple Firefox extension (sorry, no IE, Opera, Safari etc. plugin at this moment) that adds a small toolbar from where you can do Google searches without sending any cookie whatsoever to the Google server. Yet, your Google cookies (assuming there's any) will still be in your browser, so you can continue using GMail or whatever Google services you use.

You can see here a screenshot of the browser with the toolbar installed, right after having searched for the term "cookie":

Note the "Sign in" link on the top-right corner. Despite I was logged into my GMail account, after using the CFG.Search box Google didn't get any cookie from me and so rather than showing a "Sign off" button, it invited me to "Sign in". Yet, I could then go back to my GMail account and continue checking my email.

Also note that as mentioned earlier, Google saves and uses other cookies not used to identify the user. Those cookies are also not sent when using the toolbar's search box.

Basically, using the CFG.Search toolbar, no cookie is sent to Google whatsoever at the moment of executing the search.

Not only that, but because when you search Google using CFG.Search no cookie is being sent, Google thinks you really don't have any cookie set and tries to add/set a new GUID cookie, resetting in fact any previous GUID cookie you might have had. And for every CFG.Search you do, Google will try to reset the GUID cookie with a new one, making it a bit harder to group your searches around that ID should you later accidentally do a search directly from Google instead of from CFG.Search.

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What else can CFG.Search do?

CFG.Search - which by the way does not mean "Config Search" or anything like that but comes from Cookie-Free Google Search - offers a bit more (not a lot) than a cookie-free Google search box:

By the way, just to make it clear, CFG.Search has no Spyware or Adware of any type and does not save anything in your computer (except your site and locale preferences) or anywhere else. Zero, zip, nada! What would be the point of adding Spyware to a produt supposed to add privacy to your searches anyway?

The only thing that CFG.Search has, somewhat a bit out of the loop, is that the Amazon search contains an affiliate link in it (ours) but the search itself is "cookie free". There are no affiliate links of any type for Google or Yahoo! searches.

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After doing a CFG.Search, Firefox says that cookies were sent

So, that's what Firefox says, huh? :-)

Ok, here's the thing. When you pull out the "Page Info" for your CFG.Search results page, or when you use virtually any of the addons and extensions that claim they'll display what cookies were sent, what these tools really do is: a) Check the domain you just visited. b) Go to where all your cookies are stored and see which ones would match the rule that'd make the browser send them to that server. c) Show you those cookies - whether they were sent or not.

That is, neither the Page Info nor any of these extensions were actually "sniffing" to see whether cookies were really sent. They asume - and rightfully so - that those cookies were sent because that's what the browser is supposed to do. Righfully so, until now, that is.

If you really really want to see with your own eyes that cookies are not sent when you use CFG.Search, and the "Sign in" clue mentioned up here didn't convince you, you could download a TCP/IP sniffer - preferably one than can display the captured packets in ASCII mode, so you can read what's being sent - and see for yourself.

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Some caveats

The world isn't perfect, neither is this extension. Some things you should know beforehand:

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What if bad people use this extension to hide themselves

This is where this FAQ becomes boring. First, we don't think there is such thing as complete and aboslute anonymity. Second, we don't hink that search engines were designed to spy on people - good or bad. Third, nobody forced Google or any other search engine to set these cookies, and if they've done it, we don't think it was mainly to catch bad guys. Fourth, well, why don't we take it to the search engines for indexing "bad" content, or to the hosting companies that host those contents and so on. And if none of these things convince you, then read again the first point, and then, the last paragraph in the next section.

Conclusions

I must say we're not particularly paranoid about a search engine, be it Google or any other site, trying to track down every search we do.

On the other hand, we see nothing wrong in limiting the information we pass on to these sites, if we so desire not to give more information than what's really necessary. However, the current "methods" to limit that information (not accepting any cookies whatsoever from these sites, etc) are too annoying to be considered a feasible option. And that's what encouraged us to develop CFG.Search. Well, that and the fun of developing a Firefox extension.

Having said that, CFG.Search doesn't give you 100% privacy when you search, mainly because it does not anonymize your IP address, but it allows you to search Google knowing that other than the IP and timestamp (something it is sent to every server of every web page you ever visit, anyway), nothing else is sent to Google. Well, nothing else except the search term you're searching for, of course (plus some general info that is always sent on HTTP calls, such as the browser you're using and other irrelevant stuff).

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Download

Sounds good? Then please download and install CFG.Search from the Firefox Add-ons site. (waiting for extension approval for over a week - don't look for it there yet. In the meantime you can get it here)

Oh, and if you got here right away without reading anything else, that's cool, but please do not report a bug or malfunction unless you've read this FAQ.

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Support CFG.Search

If you find CFG.Search useful and would like to support it by making a small donation, we gladly accept them through PayPal.

Of course, you are under no obligation. CFG.Search will always remain FREE and will never have ads, spyware, etc.

If you would like more information on how to send a donation with PayPal, or would like to make an instant donation right now, please click on the "PayPal Donate" graphic below:

Clicking on the PayPal button does not commit you to making a donation - you can still change your mind after clicking on the button.
If you are unable to support CFG.Search but still find it useful, you may just want to tell your friends about CFG.Search.

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About the author

This is not a highly complicated extension that deserves a lot of recognition, but for the curious mind, you can visit my profile page in ZoomGroups/eGrupos for a detailed profile (name, photo, etc). Note you may find some text in Spanish in that page - that's not you hallucinating, it's perfectly normal :-) Oh and yes, that picture of me was taken at Google's HQ in Mountain View :-)

And if for whatever reason you'd like to contact me, you can do so here but you'd first need an account in ZoomGroups. If you just want to leave a public comment, you can do it at the CFG.Search blog.


CFG.Search is a Firefox extension created by AR Networks

Also, check out:

ZoomClouds (tag clouds for your blog)
ZoomGroups (your digital life, online),
ZoomBlog (advanced blogging platform)
ZoomBlast (what are your favorite videos?)
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