Science & Tech

The Hunt for Safe Internet Browsing and Search

As privacy concerns grow with so-called ‘free’ services like Google and Facebook under pressure, alternatives to Google’s powerful search engine are beginning to gain momentum and significant market share.

A sampling of some of the many alternatives to Google search now seeing a surge in interest as a result of increasing privacy concerns.

With European regulators putting the squeeze on a variety of internet services for how they abuse private users’ computer data for their own benefit, Europe’s tech community has become a buzzing ‘hub’ of startups dedicated to safer browsing and search. Companies like Swisscows, Germany’s Unbubble, Mojeek in the United Kingdom, and Qwant of France are all beginning to take market share from the giant which still controls the industry – Google.

Per, with Google controlling over 78% of search in its home country the United States, plus over 81% in the United Kingdom, 83% in Hong Kong, over 86% in France and Germany, and over 90 percent in both Italy and Spain, it might appear the unbeatable giant in this battle.

Google also has the highest market share in browsers as well. As of August 2018, its spyware Chrome browser hit a total market share of 59.74 % based on number of users, again according to Safari, Apple’s own browser, came in a distant second at 14.53%. Firefox, a browser many know and say they use, came in at fourth place – after UC Browser – at only 4.94% share.

On in November, Chrome was used by about 70% of users with nearly 10% using FireFox, 9.6% still using MS Explorer and 8.2% using Safari. Opera, the safe and fast browser that comes with an optional free VPN was used by less than 1%.

Google and most of the others are notorious not for just relentless tracking user searches and browsing histories. That’s why companies like the upstarts in Europe, which say they don’t keep user search data or even save behavioral information from searches, are beginning to make a dent.

As Eric Leandri, chairman of Qwant, a Paris-based alternative to Google search, said in a recent interview, “For us, it’s all about citizens and citizens have the right to privacy.” He describes that as drastically different from the United States, which has brainwashed internet users into giving up rights at sometimes significant real damage to their privacy.

Qwant’s approach is clearly making a difference. Only two years ago it was on a fast track upwards but still in startup mode. In 2017 it received an estimated 10 billion queries, about triple the previous year’s numbers. It is now receiving 80 million visits per month, with search requests increasing at a rate of 20%.

With no cookies or user profiling in place, Qwants’s efforts are making inroads in other places as well. In October it received word that the French parliament and army are officially dropping Google in their search requests.

As to the others, England’s Mojeek, based in Brighton, has similar design principles guiding its search system. It has mapped 2 billion webpages with its own ‘bots’. It is growing at a rate of 5X annually compared to last year, and now has 200,000 unique visitors a month.

Unbubble, a German variant on the same them, works as a ‘meta-search’ engine, sending searches through over 30 other search engines while hiding all information about the original individual requesting the search. It also has technology to help ensure more neutral data search result, without ranking based on an individual’s own search history.

In the United States, one of the more successful alternatives to Google Search is DuckDuckGo. It promises no tracking and has built-in technology that it says take formerly “creepy” sites which spy on you to making theme safe to visit. It just celebrated its tenth anniversary and claims it has processed over 22 billion private searches. Two months ago it crossed the threshold of 30 million direct searches a day, according to Search Engine Journal. So while the site still has only an estimated 0.18 percent market share for search, compared to Google at 77%, it is making a difference.

The timing for these companies moving in on Google’s territory is timely for more than just concerns about privacy. With Google already having been forced in Europe to unbundle the mandatory packing of its Google Apps with its “free” Android Operating System, the next move which appears to be in the making would be to separate the company’s search business from its advertising business, as an antitrust move. If that were to happen anywhere, the Google Chrome alternatives and safe browser market could explode even further.