So here we all are sharing all our latest news with everyone on MySpace and Facebook ("I just went to the loo!!!" "My baseball cap just fell off on the Golden Gate Bridge!!!") when along comes Ask.com and, appropriately, asks the question:
"Hold on. Are our egos so vast and our sense of proportion so opaque that we want everyone to know everything about us?"
And the related, and perhaps even more important, question:
"Do you really want those nice people who own search engines to keep a record of every time you explore subjects that not everyone might understand as a rather normal exploration of your outer physiological boundaries?
Ask.com this week launched AskEraser, a new tool that helps keep your personal search engine habits as private as you should keep some of your other habits, thank you. (US and UK users only at this time).
AskEraser removes records of your searches from your own laptop (in case the lover or cat you have recently moved in with is still a tad suspicious of what you do in your spare time), and from the company's servers too within hours (excepting search activity from the servers of third-party companies that receive your search queries to provide you with certain aspects of Ask search results, such as stock market summaries, and sponsored search results).
Jim Lanzone, CEO of Ask, said, "We take significant steps to protect any data that's stored in our servers, but for those who want to take extra precautions, AskEraser lets them take the issue completely off the table."
You will, no doubt, be surprised to hear that the second part of this offering is the currently in-vogue opt-in rather than opt-out, but at least one company is attempting to address, if not entirely hug, the simple issue of real people having some control over what they do when they log on with a view to letting it all hang out in the comfort of their own underwear.
Ask's initiative also makes me wonder which other sites would do well to offer me an eraser option or at least some better mechanisms to avoid the solicitations of the unwanted.
For instance, Amazon would do well to cease reminding me of my importune purchase of the hysterically (not) funny "Norbit," featuring Eddie Murphy as a fat, female, unfunny Eddie Murphy, by continually pressing me to engage with Tyler Perry's "Daddy's Little Girls," a movie about a man who falls in love with his attorney who looks nothing like the Eddie Murphy of "Norbit", male or female.
MLB.com might find it in their hearts to not suggest that just because I once bought a Derek Jeter bobblehead, I might be interested in bobbleheads of everyone to have played and drunk themselves silly for the Yankees since 1969. The bobblehead was for a friend, MLB, a lady friend. We fell out. She thought I was mad and talked funny. Just leave it, will you?
And why does Neil Clark Warren, founder of eharmony.com, assume that just because I snuck a few quick looks at his site five years ago, that I can suddenly be induced by some creepy special offer to find the person of my dreams? So he exults that he has been married to the same woman for 46 years. I, like many NFL owners, hedge fund CEOs and teenage barhoppers, have tended to succumb to commitments of a slightly shorter duration.
What Ask addresses with its Eraser is that our behavior is not as predictable as algorithmic analysis suggests. Which is why our searches might not have the meaning that some would like to attribute to them.
I say this openly to Sergei and Larry, Jerry Yang and any Jason Bournes out there who might think me somewhat strange.
Look, the fact that I entered WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME? in my little search box in June 2003 means nothing.
It was just a phase I was going through. OK, guys?
So can we all just go for a drink, talk about the future and forget all about the past? I'll be back in the Bay Area some time next week. But then you probably already know that, don't you?