Can We The People Take Back Search?

Category: Search-Engines

It’s no secret that the Web has been taken over by giant corporations whose sole concern is the enrichment of their shareholders. You and I and the rest of humanity are merely raw materials to be ground up and processed into “shareholder value.” Is there any alternative to a world in which three corporations control 98% of search results? Read on for the scoop on decentralized Search...

Can Decentralized Search Work?

In recent weeks, I have written about decentralized social networking (the “Fediverse”) and decentralized personal data (Tim Berners-Lee’s “Solid”). Now, along comes decentralized Search. Before delving into that, I’d like to discuss how all three topics are related.

One corporation, Google, now handles 63% of all U. S. search queries and over 93% of U. S. searches on mobile devices, according to The Statistics Portal’s July, 2018, report. Add Microsoft’s Bing and Oath (formerly Yahoo), and three corporations control 98% of U. S. search results.

Effectively, they can control what we know. They can control who we can find and what we can learn about them. They can control what we can think about and, in many ways, what we think. They can control whether you can be heard online.

Whether they exercise this awesome power is beside the point. In a free society, no trio of corporations should wield that much power. If you think otherwise, then I have no hope for you. If most of humanity is OK with this situation, then I have no hope for humanity. I am not OK with it. Something must be done to break the stranglehold that these corporations hold upon Search and all of its fruits.

Decentralized Search

A backlash against this concentration and centralization of information power is underway. The inventor of the Web is part of it. A myriad of elder and younger geeks are part of it. I am part of it. You should be part of it, too.

Our primary defense against corporate greed is FOSS – free, open-source software, owned by none and available to all. FOSS is developed by individual geeks and given to humanity free of charge, without strings of copyright terms attached. FOSS is an Act of Kindness as Aristotle defined it over 2,500 years ago: “help freely given to another in need, without any expectation of return from the one helped.” FOSS is a manifestation of Charity, the synonym for Kindness which Paul of Tarsus declared to be “the greatest” of all virtues, greater even than Faith or Hope. (I Corinthians 13:13) The greatest virtue is the best weapon against the greatest vice, greed. Nowhere are greed and its consequences more repugnant than they are in Search.

One solution is decentralized Search powered by the community of human beings who use Search. Every one of us can do what Google does, and make his or her small contribution to a search index used by all, but owned and controlled by no one. Such a crowd-sourced search engine cannot be censored; like the Internet itself, decentralized Search treats censorship as damage to its network and routes traffic around it. Decentralized Search addresses the threats posed by corporate gatekeepers such as Google.

Let's Look at Some Decentralized Search Projects

Karsten Gerloff, president of the Free Software Foundation of Europe, described those threats in a blog post published in concert with the 2011 release of YaCy (“ya-see”), an early decentralized Search project: “If a search engine is run by a single company, that company gets to decide how the results are generated and how they are ranked,” he wrote. “That company will also know what you’re currently interested in. Targeted advertising is only the most benign use of this data.”

Today, YaCy is an app that comes in versions for Windows, Mac OS, and GNU/Linux. But to my bitter disappointment, the Windows version is a total trainwreck. I didn't test the Mac or Linux version, but I presume they are similarly awful. You can try the YaCy app, but be warned it will waste your time and drive you mad.

I tried the YaCy app for Windows, and the installation process went smoothly. Next, I tried a few searches on terms that are currently popular topics. A search for "Bob Barker" took 30 seconds and yielded one result: "History of the Cherokee Indians and their legends and folk lore". I tried "Hurricane Willa," another search term that's all over the news this week. Results included "Madonna, Justin Bieber invade the Bay Area", "UN Security Council Unanimously Backs Libya's New Unity Government", and "Oliver Stone apologises for claim Hitler was a scapegoat".

Okay, so maybe YaCy isn't great at keeping up with current events. A search for "baby names" yielded these results: "CHOCTAW BABY BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY", "Baby Boom Fotos y videos en Freeones", and "NYT: Why are Asian girls suddenly forced to dye their hair blonde? Because America has Too Many White People!"

Adding insult to injury, there were no relevant results for "Bob Rankin". So you get the picture -- YaCy returned a mix of the irrelevant and the ridiculous, lots of non-English results, too many dead pages, and took way too long to do it.

Sorry, YaCy developers, but after seven years you have not produced an app that would enable the overwhelming majority of people to use or help build a decentralized search engine. If that is your mission, then you have failed thus far. Try harder, or give up and go home.

Another disappointment is Presearch, which purports to be “an open, decentralized search engine that rewards community members with Presearch Tokens for their usage, contribution to, and promotion of the platform.” Unfortunately, it is NOT a search engine. It may be a cryptocurrency scam. At best, it is vaporware.

Presearch, today, is just an unnecessary front-end to a search engine of your choice. (The default is Google.) The Presearch home page has a search box that accepts a user’s search terms. Presearch then passes the terms and the user to the designated search engine. After entering words and pressing Enter, you will find yourself on the Google search results page for your terms. You may as well have started at google.com, so what is the point of using Presearch?

That’s where “Presearch Tokens” come in. You earn 25 tokens just by creating a Presearch account, and one-quarter of a token for each search you perform via presearch.org. These tokens are actually a cryptocurrency known by the symbol “PRE” on crypto trading exchanges.

PRE is redeemable for U. S. dollars; as I write this, one PRE can be redeemed for a bit over six cents. I have accumulated about $1.87 worth of PRE in the course of researching this article. But I cannot redeem any PRE until I have accumulated at least 1,000 PRE, or $61.75 worth of PRE.

Where does Presearch, the company, get dollars with which to redeem PRE? First, according to the company, advertisers pay dollars for modest listings on Presearch’s “Sponsors” page. Second, some people are buying bundles of PRE for dollars, again according to the company. I could buy a bunch of PRE as an investment, and so could you. The wisdom of doing so is debatable.

Presearch’s “leaderboard” page shows the names of the top PRE holders and the number of PRE tokens each holds. There is something fishy about a system that allows so many “Anonymous User” accounts. It’s also suspicious to find so many of them among the top PRE holders.

Presearch is the creation of Mr. Colin Pape, a “serial entrepreneur” whose most significant contribution to humanity seems to be ShopCity.com, a far-flung network of cookie-cutter local shopping directories. So it’s no surprise to find many sponsors with domain names like ShopLondon.ca, ShopOttawa.com, ShopBrantford.com, etc. Most other sponsors have something to do with the cryptocurrency industry.

Presearch has published a 39-page white paper explaining its vision and go-to-market strategy. If it takes 39 pages, you may have a hallucination instead of a vision… or you may be trying to put one over on me.

The cryptocurrency industry took a severe shock in March, 2018, when Google banned all ads related to crypto, including wallets, initial coin offerings, exchanges, and so on. (That ban did not filter crypto from search results; it just meant you could not buy more attention than Google’s regular search algorithm gave you.) The ad ban is being eased slightly with Google’s October Policy Update.

Facebook, Twitter, and even Snapchat also banned crypto-related ads. Facebook loosened its ban in June. Whether you think the crypto ad ban is a good or bad thing, it should make you wonder what other topics are banned, suppressed or filtered. And it should alarm you that a handful of executives in giant corporations have the power and willingness to effectively silence any sort of communication they choose.

That is the power we, the People, must take back. Decentralized Search is a means to that end. Now, if only someone will do it right. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Can We The People Take Back Search?"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Rob
23 Oct 2018

If it makes you feel any better you came up second on the list from Duck Duck Go. What can you tell us about DDG’s searches?


Posted by:

Loma Johnson
23 Oct 2018

I just created an email account with ProtonMail........ This is what they state: You now have an inbox protected by strong encryption. All your emails are secured with zero-access encryption, and all communications with other ProtonMail users will be automatically end-to-end encrypted. Even we do not have the ability to read your emails.

Input please, as to what ya'll think about Proton?


Posted by:

Bob
23 Oct 2018

Sounds to me like YaCy is a smart ass. lol


Posted by:

Mike
23 Oct 2018

Hopefully one day Bob will discuss more private e-mail providers such as Protonmail and private search engines such as Qwant, DDG, and Startpage. I still recommend an occasional look at https://www.privacytools.io/ to protect ourselves. from prying eyes.


Posted by:

Frank Starr
23 Oct 2018

I feel good about start. Duckduckgo.com and protonmail. Can't prove their security, but with duckduckgo.com I have had better results with things that don't appear to be controlled by what they think I want to buy.


Posted by:

Skipper Gaston
23 Oct 2018

Possibly, millions of users of something like Presearch could accumulate search results into a shared, decentralized database. It might be a way of "stealing" info from Google over time, with less and less need for PreSearch users to use Google. After the shared database is available with some amount of accumulated search results, the Presearch frontend could first check the shared database for results before accessing Google. For the dedicated, it might be worth it to miss a few search results just to reduce Google's power.


Posted by:

Russ
23 Oct 2018

Most of the above comments seem to do with email rather than search. I'm going to try duckduckgo as I find google, bing, etc., useless when searching for anything other than a product to purchase or a service to buy.

"The love of money is the root of all evil".

Oh, by the way, thanks for the Bible reference. I was surprised by it. They are seen so infrequently today in sectarian publications. That is unfortunate, but it is just another indication that faith is unfortunately disappearing in our nation.


Posted by:

Spencer
23 Oct 2018

Mike, thanks for the suggestion about Qwant.


Posted by:

Robert T Deloyd
23 Oct 2018

I did a Google search on Bob Barker and found he was taken to the hospital after complications after a fall... I hope he gets better soon. I am a longtime fan since I was a little kid.
As for search you can turnoff saved searches or delete them all then you end up getting ads for baby diapers or anything relevant to you.
I write stories and always try to look up a word's definition or I'm having a hard time trying to pronounce a word by asking Google and almost all the time end up getting a band, movies, or some celebrity I never heard of.
You can also use different search engines :)


Posted by:

John Quigley
23 Oct 2018

I have found DuckDuckGo to be an excellent replacement for Google/Bing etc. They say they do not follow you around the web, and there are no commercials in anything they have done so far. Their search engine works well.


Posted by:

Cropduster
23 Oct 2018

"The inventor of the Web is part of it." So, AL GORE is involved??!!! I'll definitely pass, thank you.


Posted by:

Mike Hampshire
23 Oct 2018

In a town with 30 gas stations 5 have fuel for 2.00 the other 25 sell gas for 3.00. Who will be the biggest bully's on the block? A person opens a station and sells fuel for a 1.90 but to get gas their you have to go over seven hills ten stop sighs and two school zones and jump through 4 hoops.My self I will use "Ad Remover" ignore all the adds for coke at 1.99 a can and get back to work. AskBob is great and I have years worth of his columns on USB but every once in a while I take a different path. Thanks much Bob.


Posted by:

RandiO
24 Oct 2018

I have been using the StartPage search engine for a year.
My go-to email provider has always been FastMail (Australian), which allows sub-domaining and aliasing.
I use my own private server/website to create email addresses for friends and family.
For $100/year, anyone can get a godaddy (or similar) website and create their own email server. And use a CMS (WordPress, Drupal, etc.) to create your own blog content and allow your own friends/family to participate w/o relying on social websites.
Life can be good w/o them surveillance capitalistic pigs meddling in and ruining the internet.


Posted by:

Beverly Chapin
24 Oct 2018

Changed to DuckDuckGo couple of years ago and so far am satisfied. You said YaCy "Windows version is a total trainwreck." My sincere opinion is that ANYthing connected to Windows is a train wreck and major boondoggle. "Softwear" as a service is rotten idea. Closed brief Facebook account, don't shop Amazon, looking for alternative to Google -- all matter of principles. Thought DOS was hard to learn but I did- then they changed to Windows which did so much more. But the brainiacs just never know when to stop and insist on being in charge of MY equipment so I am looking to rebel and follow lots of ancestors who fought for independence over centuries.


Posted by:

bret
24 Oct 2018

Hi Bob,

if you're looking into internet decentralization via the crypto world, you may want to look into Basic Attention Token w/ their Brave browser, and Substratum and Skycoin with their projects to decentralize internet access itself. They look promising w/ projects already released or about to be released. One or maybe all of them could make significant inroads in the foreseeable future. There may be a lot of others who are nuggets of potential among the scam coins, but these are the only ones that I have some info about.


Posted by:

Tommy
24 Oct 2018

Bob, great article and excellent reader comments. Thank you all.


Posted by:

Hengist
24 Oct 2018

Another, simpler approach is to use the power of the Google engine but without providing data. This can be done through the www.ixquick.com search engine, based in The Netherlands. Basically, it acts as 'pass-through', denying Google the information it would otherwise get.

Maybe this is not as elegant as a full-blown, non-commercial FOSS search engine but at the moment, it looks like that is all there is.There are other options too (for example,www.duckduckgo.com ).


Posted by:

Dwight
24 Oct 2018

Trying to take the greed from humans is like trying to take the stink out of waste. 💸 😊


Posted by:

Kate
24 Oct 2018

I have been a DuckDuckGo user for many years. I do use Google sometimes, but I never use Bing. Now that DuckDuckGo can be filtered by date, I will probably seldom use anything else.


Posted by:

Steve Peterson
24 Oct 2018

I use DuckDuckGo. Bob did cover it in an earlier post.


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