From its humble beginnings as a project at Stanford University that has brilliantly revolutionise how we organise information, Google has evolved into an online monster that has become almost impossible to resist. It has been very useful and yet it has become possibly abusive as well. Consequently, this all mighty multinational media company has been facing an increasing scrutiny from the regulators in the EU, from its seemingly dodgy tracking practices, to allegations over tax avoidance and to supposedly unfairly skewing its search algorithms – all being done to favour its own vertical products and services, at the expense of its users and competitors.
Let’s face it: nearly everyone uses Google and it seems impossible to curb its online influence in our daily lives. However, I believe that with the collective actions of ordinary Internet users like myself, we can help change this frustrating online landscape.
When John McAfee has called upon people to avoid Google in defence of Internet users’ privacy, he has elegantly addressed the conflicting issue of being tracked and still remaining free. Long before I have heard of McAfee’s speech, his beliefs about privacy have already a semblance with my own personal philosophy and so as early as 2010 I have shifted from using Google to Yandex, a Russian-based search engine. I tried to use Yandex as often as possible but then it never seemed to come up with relevant results. I have also used two British search engines, Searchers and Mojeek, both of which are futile. Yet, in spite of these sad experiences on my quest for a better search engine, I have never considered going back to using Google again; instead, I kept on looking for other alternatives until I came across with Qwant.
Straight away, I felt a strong connection with Qwant. This search engine makes every strenuous effort to ‘respect the privacy of its online visitors while providing a safe environment and relevant results’. It is a very efficient search engine but I think it is not getting the support which it deserves. So when I learned that European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager has been stinging Google over its alleged anti-competitive behaviour over its shopping service, I immediately resorted to Twitter to communicate to her the need to stop using Google and instead support an EU-based alternative, which is Qwant. After all, there’s no point in being mad with Google if you keep on using it! I find it both mystifying and frustrating to learn that people insist on persuading giants like Google, Bing and Yahoo to improve their clever accounting practices, when there is an available alternative which offers innovation.
We are truly in a digital age as concerns about search engine are multi-faceted. For one, there is also the issue of search engine bias. Due to search engines’ automated operations, people often think that search engines display search results neutrally and without bias. However, this is not always the case. Just like any other technology company, search engines favourably control their users’ experiences, which have the consequence of bringing tweaked search results. These companies’ abusive dominant positions must be countered by fair competition if EU’s free press and creative content sectors are to flourish. So at the moment, I am still working to migrate most of my services to other providers, especially those who are more eager to take a stake in their users’ overall experience which includes that of their privacy and the manner in which they handle their personal information and data.
Image credit: eastonline
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He writes for the American Psychological Association and has a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today.