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Privacy and the rise of the alternative search engine

Over the summer we opened our blog to guest bloggers eager to share their perspectives on privacy. In this story, Finn Brownbill explains how we can put an end to tracking in search for the purpose of data collection. 

Private search

As the web continues to expand at an explosive rate, access to information has become a critical part of our everyday lives, making the search engine one of the web’s most useful tools. Without search engines gluing the web together, the ability to retrieve and explore the world’s information would be a near-impossible task.

Unfortunately, dominant players in the search market have been pushing the envelope on user privacy for years and have tied together our dependency on their search engines with their ad networks. They have been harvesting our data on a tremendous scale and the issue of tracking in search has now gotten out of hand.

Tracking in search

To put it bluntly, if able to, major search engines would track everything we do, everything we say and everywhere we go. This has become the cost of using their services “for free”. And despite these practices becoming normalized, many are still unaware of how much data extraction is going on and for what purpose.

There is also a common misconception that tracking is done in order for search engines to be profitable or to improve our search experience. This isn’t entirely correct. Search results and relevant ads can be based solely on our search query, and not our search history or personal details. Google’s very own Pandu Nayak confirms this when he states:

There is very little search personalization and what exists is focused on a user’s location or immediate context from a prior search.

This means the purpose of all data collection is so we can be sent targeted ads when we’re on sites other than search.

The personal identifiable information collected can include searches, age, gender, location, hobbies and so much more. Sadly, this is what these companies’ business model is based on. Google’s ad revenue alone amounted to almost 116.3 billion US dollars in 2018.

They have gone to extreme lengths to extract data at the expense of our privacy, including obtaining personal web activity from wifi networks through their Street View cars or bypassing Safari’s tracker cookie settings to monitor user activity.

Despite the negative media attention and fines, they continue to get away with it. And every time they do, our right to privacy becomes weaker. So it’s clear they’re not going to change, at least not without being forced to by regulation or users abandoning their services.

So if they’re not going to change it’s time to look elsewhere.

Time for change

Some may consider it to be a compromise – coming out of the comfort zone by abandoning a tool we are used to. But fortunately for those willing to reclaim their privacy, it’s actually much easier to switch than you think. And know you’re not alone – according to a study by Cognizant on “The Business Value of Trust” 47% of people said that in the current climate they would switch to a digital startup which protects their data better.

There are viable options available where we don’t have to worry who’s watching over us every time we search, wondering what the repercussions are and how our own data will be used against us. There are many types of private search engines to choose from including DuckDuckGo, Startpage, and Mojeek (all of which work in Vivaldi).

Similarly to why you use Vivaldi as your browser of choice, using an alternative, privacy orientated search engine ensures user choice and competition can return to a market which has been dominated by a select few companies for far too long. Even if you don’t switch to these alternatives exclusively, using them every now and then will allow them to grow and provide a choice.

Finn Brownbill is Head of Marketing at the privacy-orientated search engine Mojeek. Find out how you can be a guest blogger on the topic of online privacy.

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Also in the series:

The privacy price we pay for “free” food

Hotel safe(ty)


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