The Internet is about more than just having access to get online. It is also about access to information and, more importantly, factual information.
Yet, many search engines out there provide users with biased search results.
Thanks to complex tracking, search engines know a lot about you. As you browse, web trackers collect personal data such as your age, gender, location, income, and hobbies. Search companies also have access to your past searches.
That information is then used to “personalize” your search.
Vivaldi user survey
In November 2019, we carried out a survey of more than 7000 Vivaldi users. We were interested in their stance on private search.
A massive 84% of Vivaldi users told us that when they pick a search engine, the search engine’s privacy reputation is important to them.
In the same survey, 82% told us that they look for neutrality of search results when they pick a search engine.
We were not surprised.
Here are three reasons why we think our users prefer private search engines.
The end of «personalized» search
When you search the web, your search engine should deliver the best answer to your question.
In reality, most search engines use algorithms that will deliver what they think you are most likely to click on. Thanks to the data they gather on you, they will predict what you want to see.
The more you click on certain types of content, the more you’ll see this type of content displayed in your search.
However, personalizing your search results isn’t always the best answer. It will limit the choice of answers to something that’s not very useful and you’ll have to go back again and again, asking the question differently until the search engine returns what you’re looking for.
A neutral, objective answer would look like this: two people searching for the same thing get the same unbiased search result.
No more information bubbles
Personalized search results will shape the way you think.
Most search engines will filter your news and try to appeal to what you believe in. Instead of broadening your horizons, they’ll figure out where you stand on a certain issue and show you more of the same perspective.
Eventually, they’ll surround you with biased information that supports only your point of view and trap you in an information (or filter) bubble. That’s something that can even be used to gain political influence.
This realization hit particularly hard after the 2016 US presidential election when many woke up to the fact that their respective bubbles had completely separated them from reality. One study found that 86% of the news coverage for “filter bubbles” was published on or after November 9th, 2016.
Hello there, small businesses
Many small businesses out there are trying to appear high in search results so that they get noticed. It’s a «make or break» for them.
But recent reports show that Google tweaks its algorithms to favor large businesses over small, even though they may not be more relevant to a user’s search. Google argues that it does so because it believes larger companies are more likely to provide a better product fit.
That’s a blow to small, local companies that may be offering competing products or services. These companies also often suffer the most when Google adjusts its algorithm, losing traffic to their sites overnight.
How to escape biased search engines
Now, you might be thinking that algorithms can never be entirely neutral because they are designed by people who have to make certain decisions.
The obvious solution here is to make sure that those decisions affect all searches equally. Search results should be based solely on your search query, and not on our search history or personal information.
And that’s exactly how privacy-focused search engines work. They don’t collect user data and don’t use your past searches to decide what you should see.
So here’s a bonus reason for you. When you avoid biased search results you help alternative search engines compete in a market dominated by Google. This will give users a choice and choice is a good thing.
Ultimately, it will also help break the vicious cycle of tracking and data collection. And that is an even better thing.
Over to you now. Do you use private search engines?