If you were ever wondering how search engines know which book you just finished, what brand of jeans you prefer or what brand of toothpaste you use, the answer is simple: you’re being watched. Most search engines, like Bing, Yahoo and Google record your every query down to the latest route you mapped out or which research question you inquired about. Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, does collect information; however, you always have the ability to decide if their personalization is getting too personal.

Bing Uses Cookies

Computer cookies are morsels of text files that identify your computer, as well as track information you search for. Bing, like all major search engines, plants cookies in your computer when you use it. Cookies can store your city or ZIP code to give you local information in search results or remember your location in mapping functions. Cookies can also store passwords and frequently typed information, such as your email address, so that you don’t have to retype the information for frequently visited sites. Cookies can be helpful, but may make some people feel uncomfortable and can be manually deleted, blocked or disabled by the user.

User-Directed Advertising

Bing’s cookies can also track and remember searches that you have made. Bing, like Google and Yahoo, has paid advertisements included in their search results. In the user agreement on the Bing site, by using the search engine you are granting Microsoft your permission to sell the search information it collects to its advertisers in the hopes of targeting ads to you that you will find more useful. You have the ability to opt out of its targeted advertising by modifying your browser settings to delete these cookies.

Sending Out a Web Beacon

Web beacons are tiny electronic images that carry information from Bing’s cookies to Microsoft sites. These images enable Microsoft to count the number of visitors to a page. Web beacons can also be attached to promotional email and newsletters to see if people are opening the emails and clicking on the links. These emails and clicks are tracked by Microsoft. By using Bing search, you may be landing on pages that contain these beacons that are then tracked by Microsoft. Third parties other than Microsoft cannot read your personal information from these beacons; however, you can opt out of having these beacons track your information manually by visiting a certain Microsoft page (link in Resources) and changing your settings.

Check Your Browser Settings

You can modify your browser settings so that they block cookies. In Internet Explorer, this feature is located in the Privacy tab located under the Internet Settings in Tools. In Firefox, this feature is located in the Privacy panel under Options. You will still be able to use Bing even though you disabled this tracking feature. You can also let your browser accept cookies and delete them later if you want the tracking information removed.

Opt Out by Logging Out

You can log out of your Microsoft Account before using Bing, which makes it harder for Bing to track your searches. However, if you opt out, you won't receive the most accurate or complete search engine results and won't be able to get local information.

You've Got History

If you are also concerned about others who share your computer tracking your searches, you can adjust the privacy settings on your browsers to delete cookies of information stored on it. You can also clear out the browser history and the browser cache, removing traces of websites you visited to keep your searches private. These efforts don't affect Microsoft's tracking capabilities.