Search engines: resisting the monopolisation of our digital lives

Written by: Josh at Mojeek

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Don’t know the answer to a question? Just ______ it.

I would bet good money that a very large number of the people reading this article filled in the blank there with the name of a certain company founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. As more and more of the things that we do shift online, it becomes all the more worrying that there is a monopolistic company as a gatekeeper to information on the Web. If that was the sum total of the problem then maybe friends and family would be justified in considering my singular obsession with digital monopolies as something peculiar and unwarranted, but it clearly is not.

Google fills every space that it possibly can, gathering more and more data in order to feeds its advertising technology business model. It was a search engine, then it was also an advertising technology network, then it was a browser, then it also powered analytics on the Web, deluging us in cookies, and all the while harvesting reams upon reams of our data. We are concentrating so much power into one company, a company that engages in greenwashing, tax avoidance, and coordinating with oppressive regimes in order to censor the information that their people have access to. These are a few of the most egregious violations that I’ve picked from a long list; I’m sure that with digging you’ll find something even worse to conflict with your own personal code of ethics. Okay, so I’ve identified a problem, what now?

Just like you could quite easily imagine the deleterious effects upon civil life and democracy that would come from having only one newspaper, having only one viable gatekeeper for the Web is a big problem. Thankfully we have Bing! you may say, but Bing is owned by Microsoft, a giant corporation, and engages in similar activity to Google. What about Ecosia? Well unfortunately that is a metasearch engine which draws from and sends data to Bing in order to provide people with results. Trees get planted and that’s great, but the seeds of change cannot take root. I may be the first person conveying this information to you, but there are very few real search engines out there, entities with their own set of results built by crawling and indexing the Web.

 Luckily in the UK we have our own crawler-index search engine, one which does not engage in user tracking, has true bona fide green credentials, and is fundamentally opposed to the idea of changing results in order to appease censorious state actors. That search engine is called Mojeek. Fighting back, one search at a time Making an ethical change to your digital activities here starts with the simple action of adding a new search engine to your browser or phone. Changing habits, especially when that habit is the longstanding use of a specific tool, can be very tricky. Here we recommend that you start to move towards using more than one search engine in order to find things on the Web. They are all navigators with different ranking algorithms and datasets to pick from, so using more than one supercharges your ability to pop filter bubbles and find relevant information. At Mojeek, we’ve recently put out guides on how to do this on Vivaldi (also applicable to Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. When the time is right, cut that search diet down to only companies that you believe are doing good in the world. It’s going to take a lot of grassroots and top-down action in order to get back the Web we want and deserve, but we will get it, of that I am sure.

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