When I began using the Internet, web search technology was still in its infancy. The first search engine I can remember using was WebCrawler, mostly probably because they has a cool logo. Then I switched to Wired Magazine’s HotBot for a while, after which I settled on AltaVista which I continued using for a long time. When I began hearing about this new search engine called Google I tried it but didn’t change right away. Searching had become an integral part of surfing, and even though Google appeared to to deliver good results, changing would mean stepping away from my comfort zone which is hard to do. Eventually I realized that Google did in fact produce far better result that AltaVista, and their minimalistic design approach was also nice compared to the now bloated AltaVista portal. So like most other I made Google my default search engine and browser start page.
I was a happy Google user for a long time. In the beginning I admired Google very much. They were cool and innovative, with an open attitude with things like Google Labs. Not at all like old giants like Microsoft who felt like they wanted to own and control you and your computer. But as Google grew and matured, they too turned into one of the giants.
I remember the first time I noticed that Google was tracking me. One day, when you clicked on a search result, your click first went to a Google link before redirecting to the real page. The result links were disguised though, so unless you were paying attention you wouldn’t notice it. The next day, things were back to normal. This was probably Google experimenting with some sort of early tracking system. Of course, today all results are linked this way, enabling Google to track all your clicks.
Internet is an amazing tool for democracy. You can get information, communicate, read other’s opinions and express yourself as you wish. It is open to everyone. And you can do it anonymously. Of course, not everyone likes this. Government intelligence want to know what you are doing. Corporations want to know what you like. Privacy has become one of the major issues the last ten years. Technically, a 1984 is no longer just a fantasy. And there are forces who wouldn’t mind seeing this Big Brother society become a reality.
As privacy was becoming more and more threatened, I began feeling a dislike for the way Google works. It’s not just that they track everything you do. The sheer size of the company and their services means they are controlling a large part of the Internet; of our lives.
Knowing that Google tracks every search you make to build a profile of you, I realized that I had started limiting myself in what I searched for. I didn’t have anything to hide, it’s just this uncomfortable feeling of being watched. And since my future searches would be affected by everything I typed now, I sometimes censored myself, so as to not “pollute” my future searches. Sometimes I used a proxy prevent tracking.
There were other things too. I dislikes how Google shut down services like Labs, changed their agreements and APIs, redesigned their sites and so forth. So when I heard of this new search engine, DuckDuckGo, touting privacy as a major selling point, I tried it a few times. It never stuck though. Then, for some reason I can’t remember, I decided to set it as my new default search engine. And it stuck.
The biggest difference for me using DuckDuckGo is the feeling of freedom – of not being watched in my every move. I didn’t realize this had affected me so much before I changed. Also, DDG is still a young company. They listen to and communicate with their users. While there is no guarantee for this to continue, I do value this attitude. As for the search results, they are mostly good enough.
I still use Google for more advanced searches, and many of their other services too. (It’s hard not to…). But today I am more aware of privacy matters and how I manage my online activities. It’s up to everyone to decide how to live their life. But in order to do so, we need to be informed of how things work.
Note: I should add that DuckDuckGo is not the only search engine with a strong privacy statement. One is Ixquick, that calls itself “the world’s most private search engine” and sports image and video search too. I haven’t used it myself though, so I don’t know how good it is. If you know of any other good and private search engine (or other service), write a comment!