Search Engines


Ethical shopping guide to search engines, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to search engines, from Ethical Consumer


This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

This report is part of a special report on The Internet and includes:

  • ethical and environmental ratings for 14 search engines
  • Best Buy recommendations

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Score Ratings

Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings

 

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Best Buys

as of Sept/Oct 2014


As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the scorecard may have changed since this report was written.

 

YaCy, Duck Duck Go, Ixquick and Startpage are the Best Buys.


 

Search engines

 

 

Given the omnipresence of Google, a surprising number of other search engines exist. We haven’t covered them all in this product guide, but hopefully have included the ones that our readers might actually consider using!

 

image: google from ethical shopping guide

 

The Google search engine is so dominant that the verb ‘to Google’ (to search for something online using Google) was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006.

There are search engines with equivalent functionality to Google (such as DuckDuckGo, Startpage and Ixquick) but which do not track you, save your history or log personal information. As such they do not have the ‘filter bubble’ problem of Google.

 

'Filter bubble'
 

The internet activist Eli Pariser, co-founder of Avaaz.org, coined the phrase ‘filter bubble’ to describe how users receive information online that reinforces their viewpoint and don’t receive information that challenges it.

Google knows where you are and what you like, and it tailors the results of your searches using ‘personalisation algorithms’. This can be handy if you’re searching for the nearest hairdresser but it’s possible that you’re online to do something other than buy products or services.

But this isn’t a problem confined to Google searches – many other companies in these product guides use personalisation algorithms.

In May 2011, Bing introduced a new personalisation twist with the announcement it was bringing the ‘Friend Effect’’ to search:


Starting today, you can receive personalised search results based on the opinions of your friends by simply signing into Facebook. New features make it easier to see what your Facebook friends “like” across the Web, incorporate the collective know-how of the Web into your search results, and begin adding a more conversational aspect to your searches.”
 


 

 

Ethical alternatives

 

YaCy is a downloadable desktop search engine that is also good on privacy, as it is completely decentralised and does not store search requests. It is aimed more at the tech-savvy than the average user. 

Search engine Duck Duck Go was set up in 2008 and now has about 20 employees as well as open source contributors. It has had venture capital investment since 2011. Expressly set up to protect users’ privacy, it is “the search engine that doesn’t track you”. It still makes money from advertising, but the company argues that personal information is unnecessary – its adverts (sponsored links) just relate to the search term without incorporating any information about the user. 

 


   

This product guide is part of a Special Report on the Internet. See what's in the rest of the report.

 


 

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