Digital Hygiene Part 3: an Alternative to Google

I vaguely remember Internet search before Google. There was AltaVista and perhaps some other contenders, like Inktomi, Lycos or Excite. Google blew them all out of the water in early 2000s, thanks to minimalistic, user-friendly and search-focused home page and relevant results, not polluted by “sponsored entries”. Over the next decade this evolved into effective monopoly of Internet search, efforts from heavyweight competitors (Microsoft Bing) notwithstanding. Meanwhile, Google spread into multitude of other services whose competitive edge relied on vast amount of knowledge about our habits, interests and values, accumulated as a result of us using those services and giving the data away in return. It is time to take some control back.

What

DuckDuckGo is a search engine that does not track you. This is their main selling point. Other than that, they are Tor-friendly, automatically point you to encrypted (HTTPS) versions of websites, donate money to privacy and diversity-minded projects and in general make a point of treating your privacy seriously.

Why

In prior installments we have addressed the serious matter of state surveillance and criminals stealing our credentials. By comparison, the issue of corporations collecting our data and building personal profiles might be more tenuous – almost bordering on tinfoil hattery. However, the argument for protecting our data from corporations is similar to that for protecting it from the state: consider the pessimistic scenario. The company might not even be, strictly speaking, using the data against your will. You might not be conscious of them manipulating what you do and what you think. Yet, by providing the responses to your queries, they are hiding entire realms of knowledge and opinion and revealing others. Nowadays, this might be done by objective, non-partisan, and dumb algorithms. Today, all we are worried about are unconscious biases built into those algorithms. Tomorrow, the power to shape what you are aware of might be in the hands of the few who control the companies that provide the search results. To me, giving away this kind of power to a single entity is deeply disturbing. And it should not be necessary, if all you want to do is search the web for pictures of cats. Or a definition of zygohistomorphic prepromorphism. Therefore, let us diversify the “front pages of the Internet”, so that no single company can control what everyone considers to be the truth. And if we are making the move away from Google, why not to a search engine that respects our privacy?

How

While typing “duckduckgo” into the address bar is more involved than typing “google”, it is a habit that can be acquired with time. Otherwise, head to https://duck.co/help/desktop for instructions on how to make DuckDuckGo the default search engine in your browser. There are apps for iOS and Android.

Finally, I should mention the ugly: you might find the quality of the search results to not be up to what you grew accustomed to with Google. What I do in those (infrequent) cases where DuckDuckGo does not turn up the page I was looking for is prefix my query in DuckDuckGo with !g – this redirects to Google search.

21/12/2016

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