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Verizon launches privacy-focused search engine called OneSearch

Forget I ever searched that.

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On OneSearch, everyone sees the same results for the same search terms, says Verizon.  

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We've all searched online for things we'd rather not have associated with ourselves forever. Embarrassing medical symptoms, deep dives into the world of true crime in the wee hours, or even that pair of shoes you looked at once but decided not to buy. Now Verizon wants to offer a search engine that won't tie that information to you.

The service, called OneSearch, launched Tuesday with the declaration that it won't store records of what you search, create profiles of your usage or share your search data with advertisers. The search engine also gives "unbiased, unfiltered" results, Verizon said, meaning everyone sees the same results for the same search terms. Finally, OneSearch search results can "self-destruct" after a set period of time, which could be useful on shared devices.

With OneSearch, "you can search the internet with increased confidence, knowing your personal and search data isn't being tracked, stored or shared with advertisers," said Michael Albers, head of consumer product at Verizon Media.

It's the latest privacy-oriented consumer product to come out at a time of heightened concern over online privacy. The federal government and several states are weighing extensive privacy regulations, and several tech companies, including Mozilla and Microsoft, have offered new privacy protections mandated in California to all their users in the US.

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OneSearch will test the idea that privacy can be profitable at a tech powerhouse. The service comes from the same segment of Verizon -- Verizon Media -- that runs an extensive ad network with more than 70,000 web publishers and apps as customers. While the search engine aims to attract users by turning on privacy features by default, OneSearch will also let Verizon Media hone its ad-matching powers on a search engine it owns. (Verizon also owns the Yahoo search engine.)

Verizon declined to comment on which search engine will provide results to OneSearch users. While Google and Bing each rely on their own search technologies, Yahoo is powered by Bing.

Verizon said OneSearch will generate revenue from the service by matching ads to search terms. The only personalization of results will be based on location, which OneSearch will infer from a user's IP addresses -- unique strings of numbers that associate users with locations. Users will be located up to the city level, the company said.

Verizon isn't going to forget every term queried on OneSearch. Instead, it's going to separate search terms from specific users. To accomplish this, the company will store user searches on a separate server from IP addresses. After four days, Verizon will delete the IP addresses, the company says, adding that its search partners will keep the IP addresses but remove sections associated with location. A third server will separate out another category of information that would otherwise help tie users to their search requests: the user agent, which includes data about your browser and device.

The launch puts Verizon in competition with other privacy-oriented search engines, such as DuckDuckGo, which offers similar privacy protections. DuckDuckGo generates revenue through the Bing Ads program.

In response to Verizon's announcement, a DuckDuckGo spokesperson said, "Overall we believe that more choices are good for consumers."

Originally published Jan. 14, 9:00 a.m. PT.
Update, 3:21 p.m.: Adds comment from DuckDuckGo