Google alternatives that respect your privacy
Since its conception in 1996, the phenomenon known as Google has gone from strength to strength, eventually growing into the tech behemoth Alphabet. Its search function is still undoubtedly its most famous feature, and the verb ‘to Google’ has come to represent the modern idea of information-seeking. Its algorithms for sorting high-quality information from spam content are mind-blowingly sophisticated and its position as the king of internet search is unchallenged. The thing is that however valuable Google is to you, you’re far more valuable to the company as a source of profit.
What you are to Google
Data mining is the practise of gathering, sorting and exploiting user data in order to turn a profit. Nobody is as good at this as Google. A huge number of webpages use Google Analytics in order to monitor site traffic, and everything that the site’s owners know, Google knows as well.
When a webpage is loading, you will see Google’s name appear at least a couple of times. If this happens, then Google is watching. It tracks you almost everywhere you go on the web, monitoring your activity in order to display the most relevant ads to you (Google Ads is another substantial source of profit for the company). This data piles up and is sorted and analysed in order to build the most complete picture of you. All the webpages you visit, how you behave on them, all the things you search for: the picture ends up being frighteningly comprehensive. And of course if you’re using the Google Chrome browser, then you’re already sailing in Google’s ship.
It’s Only Google
The company’s omnipresence is actually what insulates it against accusations of intrusive behavior: if a team of hackers was to have codes embedded in websites which tracked you like this, the web pages would be considered infected and it would be seen as a serious breach of privacy or even tantamount to identity theft. This is because the intention of the hackers would be questioned and held up to doubt. For the most part, Google is subject to no such scrutiny. Its pervasiveness is tacitly accepted as a condition of a functional world wide web.
It is widely known that Google profits from information, but it is not frequently considered firstly how the money is actually made, and secondly how personal the information in question might be. If Google makes money from information, then someone is giving them the money: what exactly is it that the buyer gets in exchange?
Escaping from the Google Gaze
Ditching Google Chrome as your web browser is the most basic way to start deGoogling your life. Here are a few suggestions for alternative web browsers:
Brave uses Chromium, the same technology as Google Chrome. Brave will block trackers and so won’t personalize ads in the way that Chrome does. In short, you will still receive adverts, but they won’t be eerily similar to what you were looking at half an hour ago.
Internet Explorer is now widely seen as an insecure browser, and this is Microsoft’s answer. While it isn’t perfect, it’s far more secure than Internet Explorer and it has the option to open an ‘InPrivate’ window by pressing Ctrl + Shift + P. This will delete all records of the browsing session when the window is closed.
Firefox has recently been overhauled and is one of the fastest and safest browsers available. In terms of privacy concerns, its major selling point is that Mozilla is a not-for-profit organization, and as such does not have Google’s corporate interest in monetizing your data. Like Edge, Firefox also has the option to ‘forget’ that the browsing session happened if you enter private browsing mode.
This browser enhances privacy by bouncing communications around a network of volunteer computers around the world. This makes it more secure in terms of not revealing your location or your web activity. It is widely regarded as one of the most secure alternatives to ‘conventional’ browsing.
This is basically a version of Google Chrome in which users are able to interrogate the coding Google uses to track user behavior, because the code is open source. If you’re really interested in the company’s behavior and want to know how it sees you, Ungoogled Chromium is well worth a look.
Avoiding the Google search engine is another good way to put a dent in the company’s profile of you. Here are some alternatives:
The Tor browser uses DuckDuckGo as its regular search engine, which is a pretty good recommendation in itself. It provides a ‘pure’ search experience: it doesn’t remember what you looked for previously, which means that you’re not being ‘directed’ like when using Google.
Like DuckDuckGo, MetaGer doesn’t tailor search results to you. It’s run by a non-profit called SUMA-EV and the code is open source, so users are free to inspect it. SUMA-EV also offer other privacy-conscious Google alternatives, such as a Map tool.
Qwant doesn’t tailor results in France and Germany (it is a French enterprise), but in its international version Qwant just recycles Bing’s search results and earns commission on purchases users make on certain sites after clickthrough, which means that to a degree it is subject to corporate interests.
You can run Searx yourself; the main URL to access this service is at searx.me. Searx will never log the IP addresses of users who visit the site, effectively meaning that your location can’t be tracked.
StartPage is essentially a proxy to access Google Search safely. It anonymizes users so that Google cannot profile them as it normally does. The StartPage server itself delivers queries to Google and then returns the results to the searcher. Consider it a firewall against Google’s intrusive monitoring.