You know what’s creepy? Those ads that show up on the sidebar, which have clearly tapped into topics you’ve searched online. For instance, type “snow” into your search engine. The next thing you know, your e-mail page and search results are loaded with advertisements for ski resorts.
Welcome to the Filter Bubble, where search engines not only share your personal information with advertisers, but also censor what you read by directing you to sites you are already inclined to agree with.
If you regularly click on Huffington Post and Vanity Fair, you’ll get one kind of result.
If you click on the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times, you get different results.
This can be handy if you’re in a hurry and looking for something specific, say violin strings or orthopedic shoes. But what if you want to make an intimate inquiry about, say, Viagra (for a friendof course), and don’t want sex ads in your sidebar? What if you are looking for unbiased information about a topic that is controversial and complicated, say, genetically modified foods?
Check out alternative search engines, that is, alternatives to the big engines like Google, Yahoo and AOL. There are several which do not collect personal data, are free, do a good job of filtering spam and offer the same results for the same searches, to everyone. Here are four:
- YaCy allows searches of the entire public internet, with no censorship. Everyone’s content is equal, and search requests are not stored
- Apache Solr is another stand-alone server, reputed to operate like YaCy. I haven’t done much with this myself, because the language on the website is over my head, but reputable tech websites like Mashable recommend it.
- Izquick allows you to search several search engines quickly and privately. It bills itself as the most powerful and private search engine in the world.
- Here’s the one I chose:
Duck Duck Go (yes, named after the kid’s game Duck, Duck, Goose) does not collect or share personal information. It uses software that directs internet traffic through a network of 5000 or so relays, helping protect privacy. Searches are compiled from about 50 secondary sources such as Wikipedia, Yahoo! Search BOSS, Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha, Bing and others.
Here’s how to set it up:
- Go to the Duck Duck Go website, click on “add to Browser” (lower left corner), click on the downloaded file.
- Find the newly installed icon in your toolbar
- Click on it. You are given the option to have all your searches done by Duck Duck (by default), or not.
- Note the option to “remember last search” in case you like to retrace your steps; and the “featured bangs,” which allow you to search particular sites, by putting an exclamation point in front of the listed code, !yt for Youtube, for instance.
- The web browser I use, Safari, does not make it easy to install Duck Duck directly, but it does offer it as an extension. To install, click on Safari >> Preferences >> Extensions >> Get Extensions (button in lower right corner) >> More (button on far right) >> Search tools >> scroll down to the Safari approved Duck Duck version and install.
Warning: the Duck Duck Go search engine does a good job of directing you to unbiased search results, but
- It does not protect you from government spying. The NSA can bust through any protective coding (thank you Edward Snowden for getting the word out). If you fill your searches with words like bomb and al Qaeda, you might well become a person of particular interest to shadowy organizations, no matter what search engine you use.
- Duck Duck Go involves internet searches only, not to e-mail. If you mention something like “massage therapy” in an e-mail (like I did this morning) you will find massage ads in your e-mail sidebar.
- If you want to do research directly from original sources, look to some of the other alternatives listed above. Duck Duck is a hybrid that uses other search engines to filter and crowd source information.
- Historical searches are not saved by Duck Duck. If you routinely look up old searches, use an engine that collects your data.
That’s it. Do you protect the privacy of your searches? If so, how? Do you think it’s worth it?