By Arwa Lodhi
Many of us have ethics on the brain constantly. Is our food locally sourced? Were our clothes made in sweatshops? Is wool or leather ever an ethical choice? All of those are great questions – but how ethical is your search engine? Few of us wonder why we may need a Google alternative, but that’s perhaps yet another issue anyone preoccupied with ethics needs to seriously consider.
After all, we use search engines every single day. It can be hard to avoid the big ones: Google Chrome is one of the most-used browsers in the world, and Firefox uses Google Chrome as its default browser.
Microsoft owns Bing, but its ethics are no better than Google’s – through clever accounting, both companies avoid paying taxes on a massive scale, and both track your every online action (including what you write in private emails) and sell your data to companies, who then target you relentlessly with creepy adverts – don’t you find it scary when you’re shopping for say, a vegan watch, and then suddenly you see ads for vegan watches everywhere?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some other nasty activities Google in particular is involved in, below.
Google has been accused of antitrust practices many times; in India it used its market position to suppress Hindi-language search startups, for example. But various EU countries have leveled similar lawsuits, complaining of the suppression of competition. They won – Google was ordered to pay around $1.7bn in one European lawsuit – but that doesn’t seem to stop them from having a near total monopoly on the information we have access to.
Killing free speech
Google has been criticised for doing business with the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party, which maintains the single largest firewall and content-filtering system ever devised, with the sole purpose of controlling what its nationals can see in their Web browsers. But Google blocks freedom of speech in other ways for we Westerners, too.
For example, in September 2017, mathematician Leo Goldstein published the results of a research analysing statistics from Alexa Ranking, and concluded that Google’s search function ranks conservative news sites far lower, favouring left-leaning domains instead. In fact, the percentage of “hard-left” traffic referred to by Google Search was heavily disproportionate to that of more conservative-leaning websites, and there appeared to be evidence that “hard-left” domains were “hand-picked” for more prominent placement.
Google also gives priority to Google Shopping over other sites, like Yelp, for example. In his testimony before a U.S. Senate antitrust panel in September 2011, Jeffrey Katz stated that “Google doesn’t play fair. Google rigs its results, biasing in favor of Google Shopping and against competitors like us.”
In February 2003, one of our favourite charities suffered when Google stopped showing the advertisements for Oceana, a non-profit supporting our seas, when they protested a major cruise ship operation‘s sewage treatment practices. Google cited its editorial policy at the time, stating “Google does not accept advertising if the ad or site advocates against other individuals, groups, or organizations” – which means they are essentially censoring ads that criticize businesses, even if those companies are endangering the health of the public or the planet.
Another way Google is killing free speech is through YouTube, the video sharing website acquired by Google in 2006. YouTube’s Terms of Service prohibits the posting of videos which violate copyright or depict pornography, illegal acts, gratuitous violence, or hate speech. But YouTube has continuously been accused of taking down a wide variety of sites they rather subjectively dislike, from those of anti-vaxxers and conservatives to climate change ‘deniers’, while videos of violence against animals and even beheadings in Saudi Arabia mysteriously and inexplicably remain live.
The reason they cite for removing sites with messages they don’t like is that they’re violating ‘community guidelines.’ But…how is sharing information on the dangers of say, vaccines, ‘hate’ speech, gratuitous violence or pornographic? In short, it’s not. It simply seems Google censors whatever its bots dislike, for whatever reason. And if they’re starting on the kinds of sites mentioned above, who’s to say they won’t soon expand their censorship to other areas, like veganism or ethical fashion?
Dirty politics, spies and killer military robots
Google is practically the government, in terms of staff. There have been 53 ‘revolving door moves’ between Google and the White House over the past two decades, including 22 former White House officials who left the administration to work for Google and 31 Google executives who joined the White House staff.
No fewer than 45 Obama for America campaign staffers have left for Google or Google controlled companies – but much more worryingly, there have been 38 revolving door moves between Google and government positions involving national security, intelligence or the Department of Defense; 23 revolving door moves between Google and the State Department; and 18 Pentagon officials moving to Google. In short, Google and the government are basically comprised of the same people.
In fact, google’s initial research and funding came from a US Government branch, DARPA. No wonder they have cornered the search engine market!
In fact, according to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange:
“Nobody wants to acknowledge that Google has grown big and bad. But it has. (Eric) Schmidt’s tenure as CEO saw Google integrate with the shadiest of US power structures as it expanded into a geographically invasive megacorporation. But Google has always been comfortable with this proximity. Long before company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin hired Schmidt in 2001, their initial research upon which Google was based had been partly funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). And even as Schmidt’s Google developed an image as the overly friendly giant of global tech, it was building a close relationship with the intelligence community.
In 2003 the US National Security Agency (NSA) had already started systematically violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) under its director General Michael Hayden….under orders from the Bush White House, the NSA was already aiming to “collect it all, sniff it all, know it all, process it all, exploit it all.” During the same period, Google …was accepting NSA money to the tune of $2 million to provide the agency with search tools for its rapidly accreting hoard of stolen knowledge.”
In short, Google works hand in hand with secret services agencies to provide the government with literally as much information about you as they can possibly collect – and that is much, much more than even the evil entity that is Facebook could dream to have! Think about it: they keep all the data from your emails, search results, and YouTube videos and comments.
And if that’s not enough to infuriate you, know this: Google is also the parent company of Alphabet, a government-related enterprise focused on military applications of AI, such as making killer drones and robot soldiers. Not good, to say the least.
By now, I hope you’re wondering what you can do to stop supporting this rather nasty company.Luckily, more ethical search engines do exist, and to avoid gmail, you can sign up for private emails from the Australian provider FastMail, which guarantees your email cannot be mined by commercial sites eager to give you shopping hints.
Here are some of the best Google alternative search engines I know of.
7 Google Alternative Search Engines With Great Ethics
This search engine’s results are just as good as Google’s, but more fair and often less full of spam. It’s ethical, too – it promises not to track you online.
It’s easy to use, too: with just a click, you can add DuckDuckGo to Chrome. Advertising trackers are blocked, your search history is private, cookies aren’t used, and you’ll have greater control of your personal data. Even your IP address is hidden!
DuckDuckGo passionately believes that no one should be able to profit from your private data without your consent. They go so far as to label this approach “creepy,” and that privacy online should be as simple as, say, closing the blinds at home.
The stats speak for themselves. Since launching in 2008, they’ve received roughly 27 billion searches.
This ‘uncensored, anonymous’ search engine will turn up results that Google wants to suppress. It also allows you to look for specific information based on various categories. For example, you can write “sustainable fashion/tech” and it will come up with technological innovations in that area. It also promises not to track its users.
Want to raise money for charity every time you search the web? Everyclick is a regular search engine that passes on its earnings to charities nominated by individual users.
If you’re at uni, or if you work in a technical, journalistic or academic environment, you’ll love this! It’s less of a generalised search engine, and more of an academic reference system. It’s super efficient for finding out historical data, for example.
Searx.me calls itself a “metasearch engine.” In layman’s terms, this means they’re just a regular search engine – but instead, they use data from other search engines to produce their results.
This means they’re unable to offer personalized results as Google does, but on the upside, they don’t generate a profile about you either. If you believe in freedom of information, Searx invites you to use them as your search engine of choice. They think the more decentralized the internet is, the more freedom users actually have, which limits the need to rely on internet giants like Google.
This Netherlands-based search engine says they’re: “the world’s most private search engine.” People seem to love them, as users clock up as many as six million daily searches.
Startpage believes that Google, and companies like it, want our data because knowledge is power. The oldest of these four alternatives, Startpage began life in 1998 as lxquick.com, later rebranded as Startpage.com. It never tracks your data (including your IP address) and runs non-targeted ads, which is how it makes its money. By clicking an ad, you’re taken away from Startpage and subject to that advertiser’s page.
Startpage doesn’t track, share or log your data. They’re also looking at private versions of email. So, watch this space for updates on that!
We might have saved the best for last! This search engine plants a tree every time you use it; how awesome is that? Plus, they insist they are a “privacy friendly” search engine. According to their homepage:
We take user privacy very seriously. By using Ecosia, you drastically reduce the amount of data that is collected about you. At Ecosia, we don’t create personal profiles of you, but anonymize all searches after 7 days.
If you didn’t know there were ethical alternatives to Google, hopefully, you now do.
But remember, the important thing is – once you’ve found an alternative search engine you like, you need to change the settings in your browser so that your new search engine is the default.
Which of these Google alternative sites are you going to try first? Feel free to let us know in the comments box below if we missed any.
Images 2 & 4 via Wikileaks. All others from the search engines.
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