Is the Windows XP Search Doggie a Spy?
By on December 21st, 2009

The other day, while I was reading my friend Terry’s Newsletter, I was surprised to see this question from him.

Did you know that every time you search, Windows Explorer talks to Microsoft?

search_phone_home_trust_doggies

I did some research, he was right. I found several forum posts concerning this. Most of them had titles like: Windows Explorer Search tries to contact Microsoft.

Proof of Espionage

I won’t go into too many boring details, but I found out that when you open up a search window to find files, Windows Explorer does contact Microsoft’s 65.55.11.179 IP address. This is caused by the default use of the Search Assistant, which you normally see as a little dog. Here’s a screenshot from my copy of Currports showing that connection.

search_phone_home_currports

If you are curious about Currports, read my article telling you how to find out who is spying on you.

According to one post I found, Microsoft promises that no personal information is taken or kept. They claim that it’s an update feature. This leaves me to ask, Do you trust the little doggie?

The solution to this sneaky little dog is to turn off the Search Assistant, which changes the search to Classic Search. However, MS does not provide a simple way to do that. If you click the preferences in Search, you can make the Search Assistant hide, but it really is still working. An article at MS TechNet tells you how to hack the Windows Registry to completely kill the Search Assistant. May he rest in peace.

Hack Your Registry

I’ve tried their solution and it works. For those who know how to use a .REG file, here’s the text of a REG file which works. Copy and paste it into a text file, then save it with a .REG extension. Double-click it to install the fix.

REGEDIT4

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\CabinetState]
“Settings”=hex:0c,00,02,00,0b,01,f8,75,60,00,00,00
“FullPath”=dword:00000001
“FullPathAddress”=dword:00000001
“Use Search Asst”=”no”

For those who don’t want to muck around in the Windows Registry, there is a better solution. You can download a copy of Tweak UI from Microsoft.

Use a PowerToy

Go to the Windows XP PowerToys page. Once there, locate the Tweak UI download on the right side bar as shown here.

search_phone_home_tweakui_download

Once downloaded and installed, you’ll find the entry for Tweak UI in your Start / Program Files menu under Windows XP PowerToys. Open the program and navigate to the Explorer section. You’ll see the tweak for the Classic Search as I show here below.

search_phone_home_tweakui_setting

Search Assistant Post Mortem

Once that’s done, you’ll never see your furry little friend again. I realize that some of you may miss seeing him do tricks, but I don’t think you’ll miss the silly questions that he asks you every time you do a file search.

Here’s a side by side of   the Windows Search panel with and without the Search Assistant.

search_phone_home_little_dog search_phone_home_no_doggie

If you’ve succeeded in burying the doggie in the back yard, you may want to go one step further and add a faster file search to Windows XP.

More Tweaks to See

Be sure to check out all of the other tweaks that Tweak UI can give you on your Windows XP system. My favorite is removing the Shortcut Toprefix which gets added every time you create a shortcut.

The Other PowerToys

Also check out the other PowerToys at the Microsoft page that I linked to above. Here’s a quick list of some of them.

  • Color Control Panel Applet
  • SyncToy < see our article about this app
  • RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer
  • ClearType Tuner < see our article about this app
  • HTML Slide Show Wizard
  • Open Command Window Here
  • Alt-Tab Replacement
  • Tweak UI
  • Power Calculator
  • Image Resizer < see our article about Vista and Win7
  • CD Slide Show Generator
  • Virtual Desktop Manager
  • Taskbar Magnifier

Techie-Buzz Verdict: Guilty

Yes, the little dog is a spy, but you can muzzle him with a registry hack or the TweakUI PowerToy from Microsoft. No animals were harmed in the making of this article.

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Author: Clif Sipe Google Profile for Clif Sipe
Promoting Freeware and Free information since 2004. Owner of FreewareWiki.com with over 2000 pages of freebies. Please subscribe to my Google Feed or follow me on Twitter @clifnotes.

Clif Sipe has written and can be contacted at clif@techie-buzz.com.
  • Anurag Upadhaya

    surprised ! i hate that dog now

  • j

    at least the little doggie worked and he gave excellent search results, not like the useless windows 7 search assistant which just brings up files. i know where my files are guys, i want things from inside the files. I hate the new search function – hesitate to call it an assistant since its so useless. I don't care if microsoft is interested in my boring searches though they should come clean and not act like perverts. bring back the doggie without the spyware.

    • http://clif-notes.blogspot.com Clif Sipe

      Hi J – thanks very much for this comment. I had to look this one up. I found an answer here: http://superuser.com/questions/60173/how-to-searc

      Now, I have to go out and try it myself. I feel another blog post coming …

  • Harvey Lewis

    I have Tweak UI and tried to get back to the windows explorer with both it and the registry mod. No luck. The changes had no effect.

    • http://clif-notes.blogspot.com Clif Sipe

      What version of Windows are you using? Are you saying that you still see the little search doggie?

 
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