The Problem of Anonymous Vanity Searches

10 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2006

See all articles by Christopher Soghoian

Christopher Soghoian

Yale University - Yale Information Society Project

Date Written: January 23, 2007


This paper explores privacy problems related to search behavior conducted using public search engines. Specifically it exposes problems related to unintentional information leakage through a vanity search - which is a search for information about one's self. We begin by discussing recent events which have made this problem extremely topical. We introduce a number of existing technologies, such as Tor and TrackMeNot, that aim to protect users' privacy online and explain how each of these programs fails to protect users against the specific risks related to self-search. We highlight the inherent information asymmetry in the relationship between search engines and their users which makes it almost impossible to create cover traffic good enough to blend into. We conclude by exploring other avenues for protecting user privacy online.

Keywords: privacy, search engines, identity, anonymity, google

Suggested Citation

Soghoian, Christopher, The Problem of Anonymous Vanity Searches (January 23, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

Christopher Soghoian (Contact Author)

Yale University - Yale Information Society Project ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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