Netscape Navigator browser snoops on web searches

AOL's Netscape unit is snooping on searches performed by users of its latest Navigator browser at Google and other search sites.

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 identification number.

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) forwarding system.

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 Security.

"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 them traffic.

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).

Using Navigator's Search button to perform an inquiry at Google, for example, invokes the URL https://info.netscape.com/fwd/lksidus_gg/https://www.google.com/search.

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.

News source: NewsBytes

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