Disconnect unveils private search Android app and web interface

Disconnect Search, a tool that lets people use popular search engines without having their queries logged or tracked, just got easier to use. On Monday, the outfit took the wraps off a new version that’s accessible through a webpage, an Android app that should come out of beta today, and browser plugins for Chrome(s goog), Firefox, Internet Explorer(s msft) and Safari(s aapl).

When the tool was first unveiled in October last year, it was only available as a browser plugin for Chrome and Firefox, much like the original Disconnect product, which helps people block the companies that track them online. Since then, Disconnect has gained a degree of prominence by having its search product bundled as one of the privacy-enhancing tools on the Blackphone. Blackphone runs a version of Android, so it’s no surprise that Disconnect Search is available as an Android app.

The service is simple but useful – queries get routed through Disconnect’s servers, so to Google or Bing or Yahoo they look like they’re coming from Disconnect, not from the individual at the end of the line. What’s more, encryption of the queries should stop hackers and the user’s ISP from seeing what’s being searched for, and the company also doesn’t log any identifying information itself.

According to Disconnect CEO Casey Oppenheim, the new version is more than twice as fast as the first, thanks to smart filtering of Javascript on results pages, and the switch from a transparent proxy to a web proxy for the routing. The service now also supports the latest version of the industry-standard Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol and Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS), a safeguarding technique that Google itself actually uses in its own encrypted search and Gmail products.

The nice thing about Disconnect Search is that it lets you use the search engines you’re familiar with, minus the tracking that many of them employ beneath the surface. Yes, there are privacy-friendly search engines such as DuckDuckGo (which is actually an option when searching through Disconnect), but many people may prefer to get a Google or Bing results page with the features those include.

Of course, the more personalized features won’t work as usual if you’re mediating the search through Disconnect, but right now privacy and personalization are mutually exclusive in this space.

“What search engine you use is sometimes a very tough habit to break and a lot of people who are privacy fans are still addicted to Google or Bing,” Oppenheim told me. “This is a way you can continue to use the search engine of your choice and get privacy when you want it.”

In its first 5 months, Disconnect Search picked up around 50,000 active users — a far cry from the 1.5 million active users of Disconnect’s original private browsing product. Now that it’s more accessible, I think it’s safe to say we can expect a big jump in Disconnect Search’s user base.