Living completely out of the Google bubble may not be possible, but slashing the amount of data this company collects on you is certainly achievable. Even better, you won’t have to go completely offline or live in a cave to do it.
We don’t need Google to Google for information
Google has become a verb synonymous with the use of its internet search engine – an achievement very few companies ever make. As it crawls through the web and classifies it, the Google search engine dominates the online world with a market share estimated at over 75%, far ahead of the Chinese Baidu with its 15%, and light years ahead of the rest of the pack such as Microsoft’s Bing(4%), Yahoo, the Russian Yandex, Ask, and DuckDuckGo.
The philosophical and operational problem with Google
The big philosophical issue with Google is the surveillance economy that it has helped build, thanks to its incessant collection of data from people like you. As Google knows more about you and what you like, it serves you more of just that in the form of curated content, more customized search results, and yes, advertisements. This can place you in a self-customizing, self-reinforcing circle. Are you OK with an economy built on collecting vast amounts of data about you – then working with this data so you can exposed to more highly focused advertising and sold more stuff?
From an operational perspective, Google also defines the online advertisement industry. This means Google sets the standards, sets the rates, defines the competition, and even moves the markets. This fuels the SEO industry and the never-ending effort to game the Google search algorithms.
The Google business model needs you
The problem is not just that Google is big, it is also quite small — it targets individuals like you. By tracking users on the basis on their individual activities, locations, and interests, they are able to develop highly detailed customer profiles. While the past company motto was “Don’t be evil,” today we can safely say that the motto is “Sell more ads, more precisely.” But to target you with these ads, they also need your help and, most importantly, your data. The question you should be asking yourself is – Do you want to give them so much information about yourself?
Gentlemen, start your (search) engines
By definition, a search engine is simply a bundle of software that systematically searches the internet for particular information. A search engine can still crawl the web for the latest postings without being as intrusive – or as personalized – as Google. Even more, a search engine can build on Google’s own results – and provide users with an extra level of privacy.
Get an additional degree of separation by googling with someone else
Even though Google is synonymous with search engine, they are not the only search engine on the market. And even though the search engine market tends to have one major player in a market such as Google (almost global), Baidu (China), Yandex (Russia) – there are other players with other less invasive approach to your privacy. One of the most known is DuckDuckGo. Another, more German focused effort is Cliqz.
Instead of the Google approach of tracking users at every step and stage of the online interaction, DuckDuckGo tries to set itself apart by not profiling individual users and by gleaning its results from several hundred sources made up of its own crawlers, major search engines like Google, and other crowd-sourced results. This degree of separation provides benefits to both the user’s results and their privacy. It provides more open results by keeping the user from being locked into a self-customized bubble. It also protects user privacy by giving Google less granular data on its users and their activity.
So while we may use the term “Google” for all web browsing and search engines, we shouldn’t be afraid to go beyond Google. After all, it is only our privacy at stake.