In an age where data is recognised as an extremely valuable currency, standard search engines have evolved. Originally just simple answers engines they’re now powerful marketing tools able to feed users personalised advertisements based on their online activities, or even just their search histories. Each time a search is conducted on a standard search engine, online data is generated and captured, but at what cost to the user’s privacy?
In a recent BBC news article titled ‘What can you use instead of Google and Facebook?’, freelance copywriter and consultant Edward Armstrong details why he’s decided to boycott internet giants such as Facebook and Google in favour of less intrusive providers, as he states “we agree to give these companies ownership of our lives and they are cashing in”. Whenever we access any of the FAMGA (Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon) cohort’s platforms, we do so at significant cost to our personal privacy and data — the ultimate power in this digital age. As you navigate your way across the web, a detailed catalogue of your interests, hopes, fears, friends, location, and more is mapped out and used to inform what you and others in your network will be targeted with. As Alastair Mactaggart, founder of Californians for Consumer Privacy and online privacy advocate voices, “the essential truth is that these companies know us better than we know ourselves”- imagine the wealth of information that can be inferred and mapped about you from knowing your online search activity. This systematic mapping of data doesn’t put users in control of the results that they see as it isn’t generating solely on the most relevant content, but is in fact influenced by the companies vying for the prestigious top spot on the first page of search results.
Standard search engines hold enormous prospects. Google, for example, owns 72% of the entire world’s market share for search engines, generating a substantial revenue of $15,654,224 an hour, that’s $4,348 every second (source: https://www.signs.com/blog/famga/). Of course, this is a sizable amount considering the most common association with the company is their free search engine. Therefore how is this revenue generated? 85% ($116.32bn) of it is from advertising, which deploys users data to often deliver personalised results to a search query. As the phrase coined by Andrew Lewis states; “If you’re not paying for something- you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold”, as users transact these free online services for the cost of their personal information. Such information can readily be exploited. The very public case of Facebook’s notorious sharing of personal data with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, for which they are facing a fine of $5bn, being just one example.
Amid rising privacy concerns, a new wave of privacy-aware alternatives to established platforms are growing in popularity. Amongst these are DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t share or store personal information, automatic encryption of end-to-end email by ProtonMail and AMPLYFI’s own DeepResearch, a Deep Web search engine that guarantees privacy and maintains users’ anonymity online. DeepResearch doesn’t track users queries and has no advertisements, ranking results on relevancy rather than interference from Search Engine Optimisations based on search history.
Technology has a remarkable ability to connect the world, allowing us to discover new information with a few clicks, not to mention overcome language barriers and enable users to search widely and present results in multiple languages. However, with this great power comes great responsibility, from both the users and the providers of the tools, to be aware of what personal information is being shared, and how wide.