Google’s original strapline was ‘Don’t be evil’, but oh boy have they gone a long way away from that mantra in the 21st century!
Google is a massive advertising company and it exists purely to make as much money as it can out of us. It seems like it is a free service but it is taking from us every time we use it by taking our data.
Every time you do anything through Google search, they follow every move, every keystroke you make and then they use that information to make money out of you and, potentially, to manipulate you to buy and do things you wouldn’t otherwise think of.
The vast majority of us use Google to search online, but a growing minority has realised the harmfulness of allowing this biggest of Big Tech into our thoughts and desires and they are using different search engines on purpose. Read on to find the ones I recommend.
There are a few reasons why Google is bad for your health and wellbeing.
Google’s main income comes from watching everything you do, every keystroke and every click, and compiling that information into a personal dossier about you which is then sold to advertisers, Governments and agencies that want to manipulate your thoughts and behaviour.
By information I mean employment status, medical conditions, political beliefs, financial information, and other personal information. Are you happy for all of this personal data to be collected and given out to just anyone? I’m not.
The Alphabet corporation owns Google and is also owns a number of surveillance companies. This is the future of power struggles – those that have the in-depth knowledge of citizens will be able to rule. Surveillance of all types is where current and future income lies and Alphabet is particularly well-placed to profit from it.
Do remember that personal data is now more valuable than oil. The more ‘they’ know about you and the more granular that knowledge, the more valuable it is.
Some of the data that they’re capturing on you includes what is called ‘pre-crime’ information that is shared with the police to see if you’re likely to commit a crime in the future. It will look at who you’re hanging out with, for example, and could mean that police will pull you over in your car to put the thumb on you even though you haven’t done anything….yet.
That’s the kind of company Alphabet is, and every time you use a Google product you’re helping it gather ever more data on the citizens of the world.
Most of us assume that in using a search engine it’s like going into a library where everyone looking at the card index sees the same thing.
Google manipulates the search results you get depending on your search history.
It also manipulates it depending on its own interests. So, for example, as Alphabet has financial interests in Big Pharma, if you put medical questions into ‘Dr Google’ it’s unlikely that you would find much in the way of alternative medicines. You would mostly get responses that promote chemical remedies that have the backing of pharmaceutical giants.
go past the first page
One of the ways that it manipulates you is that, as it knows that almost nobody ever goes beyond the first page of search, the results they want you to see are there. So if you do continue to use Google, make sure you hit the second or third page to see alternative ideas when you put something in the search bar.
The only way to keep your search and personal data somewhat secure is to use a private search engine – one that does not collect your data and offer it to others for their use.
A genuinely secure and private search engine will not track your data and it returns results with extra protection and data privacy levels. In fact they offer a range of methods and features for keeping your searches secure.
Here are the ones that I suggest you use instead of Google:
Duckduckgo is the most popular of the secure and private search engines. It is the one that I use most of the time and it has over 40 million queries daily.
Originally it returned just American sites but it has expanded greatly and now offers a UK version which is very helpful and better than Google’s search results as it offers genuine findings rather than ones manipulated to what they think you should see.
It has a metasearch engine (i.e not its own search) that gathers results from more than 400 sources, including Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, and Wikipedia. To finance operations, DuckDuckGo generates money through ads and affiliate relationships, which is explained on the site. Similar to Google and other search engines, DuckDuckGo has ads at the top of your searches. Amazon and eBay are two of its affiliates.
Although Duckduckgo is the go-to search engine for the majority of privacy-lovers, it’s not 100% secure. For example, they do save all the search queries of users, although they don’t record your User-agent strings or IP address. So, although the data is collected, it’s not done in a personally identifiable manner.
It is also based in the US which is not generally considered a country with proper pro-consumer privacy laws, and it is hosted on Amazon’s servers, which is a shame.
Interestingly, according to the Patriot Act, all internet servers and search engines physically located in the jurisdiction of the United States are obliged to disclose any information to the intelligence services. Hmm.
Swisscows is based in Switzerland and offers total privacy for both your search terms and your location history while making sure it does not record or store any of the data that can identify you.
It uses encryption which stops information being leaked. It also lets you select a region for more relevant results. It has a semantic map which enables you to have an interactive research experience.
It is ideal for families too as its search results never include sexual or pornographic content.
As Swisscows does not pass on user data from search requests, it can’t properly monetize its service through ad partners (unlike Google!), so it largely relies on donations and sponsorships to keep going. Sponsors can get a banner ad at the top of results.
According to SwissCows’ own privacy statement: “We do not collect any of our visitors’ personal information. None whatsoever. When using Swisscows neither your IP address is recorded nor is the browser you are using (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Chrome, etc.) collected. No analyses are made, which operating system our users use (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.); your search are not recorded either. We record absolutely no data from our visitors. The only information we store is the number of search requests entered daily at Swisscows, to measure the total overall traffic on our website and to evaluate a breakdown of this traffic by language and mere overall statistics.
Swisscows completely does away with statistics and analyses on its visitors in order to protect your privacy. Given that we do not collect any information on our visitors, we are also not able to identify your place of residence. Swisscows does not conduct any geo targeting.”
Metager is an open source metasearch engine with good features, based in Germany.
It gets its search results from Bing, Yandex, Yahoo and others, but it does also have its own web crawler.
It is operated by a non-profit foundation in Germany called SUMA-EV (Association for Free Access to Knowledge).
All user IP addresses are truncated for privacy, although user agent information is passed to their search partners.
MetaGer runs on servers in Germany, which is a jurisdiction with strict data protection laws.
Mojeek is the only true private search engine (as opposed to a metasearch engine) that has its own crawler and index
It claims to have indexed 2.3 billion pages, with the goal of doubling that by the end of the year.
Currently their results are hit and miss but it is early days and soon their search should be good enough to pull people away from Big Tech monoliths like Google, Bing and Yahoo. Certainly the fact that they are going it alone and trying to do search their own way, rather than use the big boys – like the other search engines above are doing – is something that we should support.
Mojeek claims to be the “first ever no tracking/privacy orientated search engine”that tried to be private from the start.
Mojeek is based in the UK. Decide for yourself whether that is more or less secure than the US or the rest of Europe. Personally I think it’s more secure than the US but less so than the EU area but you might disagree.
You’re used to using Google and you’d like to stay there.
Fair enough. If you want to do that, but still retain some sort of privacy and autonomy, then at least mess with their heads!
For a start, diversify your browser search. Sometimes use Chrome (owned by Google), and at other times use Safari or Firefox. Use Google at times and then at other times, just to mix it up, use DuckDuckGo, then try SwissCows and Mojeek.
Another fun thing to do is do some searches in ‘incognito’ mode so that part of your information is not picked up.
Data is most valuable and saleable to Google if they can connect it to a person. If you scatter your fire so that they know less about you, you will be nicely messing up their records.
change your details
It’s also important to mess with their idea of your behaviour. Do what you can not to give away your identity. For example, any time you’re asked to give personal details for stores or other organisations, change your gender, use a different birth data, tell then you have kids if you don’t…etc. The more false information you put into the system the harder they have to work to find out about you.
They already know WAY more about us than we could dream. Don’t make it easy for them to find out more!