Is Google Ready for the Next Best Search Engine Challenge?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Competition in the search engine space is heating up.

By linking with Yelp (YELP), Yahoo (YHOO) thinks it can do better local searches than Google (GOOG).

Baidu (BIDU), the Chinese search engine, now wants to compete more directly in developing markets like Brazil, Thailand and Egypt. 

There's also a lot more interest today in searches of the "semantic web," with natural language queries, such as Google's new Hummingbird algorithm. The idea is to make searching for something online as natural as asking the question, and spoken interfaces like Apple's (AAPL) Siri make that kind of search more common.

But the search engine story the media is talking about is the Defense Advanced Research Project Administration's (DARPA) Memex project, which aims to index and search The Onioni Router, or .tor, the anonymous Web service originally created by the U.S. Naval Research Department.

As an indication of its determination to complete the project the agency, which funded development of what became the Internet in the 1970s, wrote in its release that its first aim is to fight human trafficking, something everyone is against.

DARPA published a "broad area announcement" for Memex and plans to look at proposals on next Tuesday.

The move is coming just as mainline search engines, including Google, work to make the Web more private, through the use of encryption.

If you notice https:// instead of http:// at the top of a web page, this shows the page is encrypted -- even Google Gmail is now https:// One reason for the acceleration are the privacy concerns caused by revelations of former NSA researcher Edward Snowden.

Efforts toward improved anonymity are even being productized, as with the Blackphone due to be released next month by a Spanish phone maker and a company called Silent Circle, launched by the creator of PGP encryption.

DARPA will argue that its effort to search the "deep" web is not an effort to destroy anonymity, but merely an effort to compete with what criminals are already doing.

The "deep," or unindexed Web, is as much as 500 times bigger than the visible Web you search using Google. The deep Web includes pages sites don't want searched, shown in their robots.txt file at their sites' main page, but it also includes pages created with The Onion Router pages that are meant to be private or protect anonymity.

DARPA is saying not only that it wants to search tor pages, and break encryption routinely, but that it wants to offer this capability for "military, law enforcement and intelligence investigations" -- in short, all types of police agencies.

DARPA says Memex would apply to "any public domain content," but adds it is not interested in "deanonymizing or attributing identity to servers or IP addresses, or accessing information not intended to be publicly available." Trouble is it's hard to conceive of a system that can fight human trafficking effectively without unmasking identity.

While it's possible that Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft (MSFT) might bid to lead this contract, it's actually more likely an experienced government contractor like Computer Sciences (CSC) could win the bid, with other companies instructed to cooperate with it.

Experienced traders seem to be all over such a trade. Computer Sciences' shares, which traded in the low-$20s twice in 2012, have recently broken out to new highs, opening today at $61.45, above the 2007 high of $61.38.

At the time of publication the author owned shares of YHOO and GOOG.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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