While helping our colleague Dave Bean as he worked to get his essay on Google and the NSA ready for publication, I found myself wondering if any of this latest news on the government’s forcing their nose into everybody-in-the-world’s business would have any lasting effect. Sadly, I figured not–if there was any change, it’d only be temporary. I’ve spent too many years on this planet to expect too much in the way of permanent change for the better.
Sadly, I’m of the generation that learned of the advent of global warming way back in the early 1970s (we called it “the greenhouse effect” back then). Child that I was in those days, I was certain we’d work to solve that problem long before it got out of hand. Obviously we didn’t. Government corruption? I wrote of it in the underground press about the time Nixon was being taken down for Watergate. The government got a little less corrupt, briefly, and a little more transparent, just as briefly, before Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra came to rule our lives and consciousness.
A little hope came to shine on me, however.
The other night, just as Dave and I were engaged in a back-and-forth exchange of emails about his essay, I received an email, sent from my little sister’s Yahoo account. She wanted to know if I knew a better way for her to search than Google?
“One that doesn’t track you,” she wrote. “I know it’s silly and I don’t really care what they find about me, but I just don’t think they have the right to do that.”
I knew exactly what she meant. In the old days we would’ve said, “It’s the principle of the thing.”
Truth be told, the question was embarrassing for a supposed free tech expert like me. I didn’t. I knew search existed that didn’t track, but I’m as lazy as the next gal and Google’s too easy. I shot her an email back. “No,” I wrote, “but that’s a great idea for an article for FOSS Force. I’ll get right on it and get right back atcha.”
She’d prefer something with an Android app. My sister lives in the mountains, off the grid, out on the west coast. They have some electricity they generate from a stream on their property, but for Internet access they’re stuck with the snail paced service they can get from the one cell tower that sends a signal where they can reach it, so she pretty much depends on her Android phone and the Google Nexus tablet she’s come to adore.
I did a cursory search and was amazed at how easy it was to come up with search engines that don’t keep records or track their users. One of them, DuckDuckGo, I’d forgotten but had played around with it some time back and knew it had a good reputation among people I know in the San Francisco bay area.
All of these search engines are proud of the fact that they search without tracking–their reason for being. Also, they’re all very aware that the NSA and Google have given them an opportunity to cash-in. Hopefully, they’ll be able to retain some of their new users even after this current scare wears off.
Just today Business Insider ran an article on all the extra traffic going to DuckDuckGo since the news of PRISM came out. They’re setting records.
Search results seem to be at least as good as on Google, since all of these alternative search engines take results from the major search engines, including Google and Bing. They’re free services. Like Google, they include ads in their search results. But these ads are based only on your search terms, not on your surfing history.
Later that same night, I fired-off another email to little sis. “Try DuckDuckGo or Ixquick,” I told her. “Neither one tracks you. Both have Android apps.”
A little while later, sister sends an email back. “Thanks,” she wrote. “BTW, I have a new email addy.”
She dropped Yahoo. The new TOS gives them the right to scan through your mail looking for keywords and keyword phrases. Now she’s with Hushmail, an online email service that doesn’t read your mail.