How convenient is google? You need to know something, you google it, you find it. It is great, isn’t it?
The search engine is so convenient that the term ‘to google something’ was even added to several dictonaries in various languages all over the world.
If you think about it a bit deeper though, you will realize there is a price that you pay for this convenient search engine:
All your data is saved – this means that google knows more about you than your husband or wife, your close friends and your relatives. The company creates a profile of you and can tell you things about you that you probably have not realized yourself. A big part of this information is derived from your search results. Personalized adds appear in your browser all the time depending on what you have looked for. Another huge part of our data does not even come from the search results, we freely give it to google. Whenever the window opens on your screen asking for some permission, most people just accept without even reading it. Therefore google has information about your location, through the microphone it knows what you talk about and through your search results it knows what you think about.
The next problem is that your data is used to personalize your search results. Depending on what you have looked for in the past, google ‘tailors’ your search results personally for you. At first glance that is a good thing. When you look for something the things you are interested in the most appear right at the top of the listed results. However, thinking about it more, it creates several problems. Your search results become biased. Depending on your political orientation and religous believes, your education and your location your search results will vary from person to person. To think about an example we may consider debates about taxes. In the US Republics are in favour of tax-cuts, democrats lean more in the other direction. When researching about this topic people who support the republicants will receive information about the benefits of tax-cuts, while a democratic-supporter will reiceive more information about the problems in the American welfare state, the low-quality public education and the bankrupt health system. It is not difficult to understand why the political debate often does not lead anywhere.
Probably the biggest problem is privacy. Your data is not only saved, it is also sold. This means that governments, but also other companies have access to your information, your phone number, your email address and everything else varying from your favourite collar to the size of shoes you buy.
Now, all the criticisms we may have towards a company like google – and in fact most other big internet companies – doesn’t lead us anywhere without an alternative, without offering something we can do about it.
The obvious choice is to return to a pre-internet way of research: books. However, if we are honest about it, for most people that is not an option. There are too many things that we are required to look up within seconds or minutes. The variaty of sources we can find over a website like google is unmatched by any libary in the world.
What else can we do? There are by now many different search engines. Next to the big ones – yahoo, bing and of course google – which all don’t vary much from one another in terms of privacy, data policy, etc. there are some young and small search engines with a different approach.
One of them is the Ecosia search engine. The company was founded in 2009 in Berlin, Germany.
This company operates in some ways like other search engines. You type in your search items and it gives you an answer. The results you receive are as fast, accurate and diverse as what google, bing or all the other search engines offer.
The difference to other search engines could hardly be bigger though. The company is eco-friendly. It ensures that your searches are CO2 negative, meaning that all the CO2-emission generated by you operating the computer and using this search engine is 0.
The company does this by planting trees on behalf of their users. Around 80% of the companies profits are donated to plant trees all over the world. By now, the search engine has planted more than 51 Million trees in Western Africa (e.g. Senegal, Burkina Faso and Ghana), Latin America (e.g. Brazil, Peru and Columbia), South East Asia (mainly in Indonesia) and parts of Europe (mainly in Spain).
A tree is planted for every 45 searches that you do. With by now roughly 7 million active users one tree is planted every 1.1 seconds on average.
Looking at the second big criticism we had towards google: personalizing the search results. If you are on ecosia.org you can enter the settings and decide if you want to have your search results personalized. The important point is that you can decide, you can – if you choose to – switch it off at any time.
Trust must be earned: this is an important issue. We did not know how our private information was treated by companies until a few years ago. How do we know that this new company – Ecosia – is actually any different? The company emphasizes transparency. On the Ecosia-website you can find all their revenues and all their expenses in an easy accessable and understandable way. You can read about the trees they planted and the people they helped.
If you need additional ensurances. The company is the first German company that is classified as a corporate B company. ‘Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.’
What have we learned? There are alternatives that are as good as google and while protecting our privacy, we can plant trees and do something good for the environment.