Netscape Navigator Browser Snoops On Web Searches
By Brian McWilliams, Newsbytes
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A.,
07 Mar 2002, 10:29 AM CST
AOL Time Warner's [NTSE:AOL] Netscape unit is snooping on searches
performed by users of its latest Navigator browser at Google and other
According to a network traffic analysis performed by Newsbytes, Netscape
is capturing Navigator 6 users' search terms, along with their Internet
protocol (IP) address, the date Navigator was installed and a unique
Anytime a Navigator user performs a search by typing terms into the
browser's URL bar and pressing the adjacent Search button, or by using the
Search tab on the browser's My Sidebar feature, the user data is sent to a
server at info.netscape.com using a uniform resource locator (URL)
While search sites such as Google log data about visitors, Netscape is in
a unique position to compile a meta-database of search information,
according to Marc Maiffret, "chief hacking officer" for Eeye Digital
"Why should Netscape know about what I searched for at Google? This is way
more information than they need," said Maiffret.
Derick Mains, a spokesman for Netscape, said the company developed the URL
forwarding system in order to bill participating search sites for sending
"We just keep track of aggregate numbers and don't monitor any terms or
anything. We just need to know how many people are searching via our
browser to our search partners, and that's all the information we
receive," he said.
By default, Navigator's Search function uses Netscape's own search
service. But browser users can configure Navigator instead to use search
services from Google, Lycos or Overture (formerly Goto).
Netscape's interception of Web searches was first noted by Sim IJskes, a
Netherlands-based software engineer, on the RISKS mailing list this week.
IJskes observed that Navigator installs several scripts that are invoked
during searches and forward requests through Netscape's server to the
intended search engine.
Using Navigator's Search button to perform an inquiry at Google, for
example, invokes the URL
A test of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 browser showed that data on
searches conducted from IE's search page is sent directly to the
designated search site and is not intercepted by Microsoft.
Navigator users can avoid having Netscape log their searches by directly
accessing a third-party search engine by typing its address into the
browser rather than using the Search button or Sidebar.
According to Richard M. Smith, an independent privacy watchdog, the
Search-button users' inquiries at third-party search sites are logged by
"This is yet another example of a product phoning home. It's a sleazy
practice," said Smith.
Netscape is at http://www.netscape.com .
Reported by Newsbytes, http://www.newsbytes.com .
Reposted 12:11 CST
(20020307/WIRES ONLINE, LEGAL, PC/PRIVACYISS/PHOTO)
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