/ givingupgoogle

Giving up Google: 2/x; Browser and Search

Search

Google's first product was their search engine, and like Hoover managed to turn a noun into a verb. Whilst Google is an excellent search engine, it is also a decidedly creepy search engine: recent articles have pointed towards Google enabling confirmation bias, training itself to return articles that are more likely to conform with the end-user's views.

Whilst this - in spirit - might be a feature I want, I also want to ensure that I'm not using Google as my primary search engine. Consider the following: I enjoy being plant-based, and if I search for information about that on the internet there's a chance that Google will give me a skewed view of the world, instead of a less optimised list of results for my search term. I then build an innacurate picture of the world, and make decisions based on bad data.

Being plant-based is a relatively innocuous subject, but imagine if instead my particular bent was racism. I might search for more information on a racist view point, and be returned articles that re-infornce this view point, instead of challenging it. I then believe that more people are of a like mind, and feel empowered in my bigoted attitudes, and vote for Trump or Brexit.

Unsurprisingly, I've chosen to replace my primary search engine with DuckDuckGo. DDG promises that they don't do bad stuff, and are good: if nothing else, Google have dropped the 'do no evil' motto, so they're ahead. DDG sometimes provides utterly useless results, but in doing so, it either sharpens my search engine skills, makes me think, or finally will make me prepend !g to my search string to dump the search to Google. Whilst I might end up using Google, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I tried an alternative. (I also enjoy other 'bangs' in DDG, such as !w to get the first result from Wikipedia for my string, effectively turning DDG into a lazy index for Wikipedia.)

Searching for a brand of plant-based cheese returns results on X-Hamster.
An example of a useless result from DDG X-Hamster from plant-based cheese...

Professionally, I still use Google as my search engine, but most of my searches are copying and pasting an error message, hoping to find someone who has already had that problem and fixed it. In this, I feel less conflicted, as the results are more binary-cased: has the error been resolved?

Browser

Back when the internet first began, the address bar in the browser was just that: a box that the user typed the address of the site they wanted to go to in. Then, came a search box: a small text entry box to the right of the address bar, the contents of which were sent to the search engine of choice. After that, the search and address fields were combined into one entry field, inextricably intertwining the fate of the two products.

For a long time, I used Chrome with two profiles: one for my work, and one for my personal profile. As I started to consider reducing my usage of Google, I realised that Chrome had to go. Partly, it sends a lot of data to Google, and partly, because it's becoming the new Internet Explorer: no, not as a giant bloated thing that doesn't work very well, but as something that sites and plugins are built exclusively for, with other browsers being left with rendering errors.

Initially I tried Firefox, ostensibly as Mozilla promise to be good. Whilst I liked it, it would crash more frequently than I care for in production software, and because Apple won't allow for a change of a default browser in iOS, it was fraught with irritation. (I do use Mozilla's mobile ad blocking service, Focus.)

Whilst I resent the feeling of being strong-armed into Safari - and no, Android is clearly not an option for someone trying to use less Google - with the exception of the Stravastix plugin for Chrome I don't miss anything. I like how tabs are rendered in the touch bar, and the integration between mobile device, laptop, and other laptop is tight (as one would hope/expect).

I add the DuckDuckGo Security Essentials extension to Safari, for a bit more anonymity, although working for an ad-tech company, I have realistic expectations about being tracked whilst using the internet.