Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash

I Stopped Using Google As My Search Engine, Here’s Why…

So I consciously made the decision to stop using Google, partly as an experiment and partly because I thought (and still think) it’s a good idea. Google is an awesome tool for answer many questions, but not all of them. Along with other ways to find answers, I knew there were more private, more reliable, and simply better resources on the internet.

Google Was Great, But Not for Everything

While Google as a search engine is great for everyday searches, it doesn’t always provide what I’m looking for. If I have a complex question, like a research question, WolframAlpha provides much more complete and better answers. Unlike Google, WolframAlpha calls itself a “computational knowledge engine”. Rather than providing a list of websites that may answer my question, WolframAlpha simply answers my question.

WolframAlpha can solve complex math problems or even compare Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

I Was Tired of Google Tracking Me

Awhile ago I checked my Google activity, only to be slightly disturbed at the amount of information I found in there. If I wanted to know what I was doing on March 1st of 2017, my location and what I searched for that day were in there. It was creepy. I promptly cleared my Google history and logged out of my account on my phone.

So, I looked into private search engines as a way to still find what I was looking for, without the tracking.

  • DuckDuckGo — This is the most popular and well-known of the privacy focused search engines. DuckDuckGo’s traffic grew 55% in 2017, a trend that most private search engines also enjoyed.
  • Search Encrypt — I chose this search engine for its “encryption” features and expiring search history. Another reason is the browser extension for Chrome. Because using Google was such a habit, I’d find myself going there occasionally. Search Encrypt’s Chrome extension would redirect my searches to its private search engine, which helped me switch.
  • StartPage — StartPage is very similar to searching Google, because they source their results from Google. However, StartPage removes all identifying info from your query and sends it anonymously. Users get privacy in exchange for giving up some of the “convenience” features that Google offers.

Private search engines, while they work well for protecting your searches from the search engine, can’t protect you from other trackers on other websites that you visit. For this, I downloaded a VPN and started using Ghostery, an extension that blocks tracking.

I Was Interested in the Deep Web

For those of you that don’t know what the “deep web” is, it’s any part of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. People tend to have negative associations when they hear the term “dark web”, however I was mostly just curious.

For accessing this part of the internet, my Chrome browser and Google search just weren’t going to cut it.

I Wanted Better Video Results

I’ve used Google’s video search almost exclusively forever. However, shortly after trying out a couple other options, it was clear I had been missing out. From an interface standpoint, Bing and Search Encrypt’s in-line video viewers are much better alternatives to Google’s list view. Bing’s filter and search refinement is also more user-friendly than Google’s video feed.

My Search Engine Should Be Neutral

Whatever information Google was tracking about me was incredibly effective. What I mean is that, oftentimes I would find exactly what I was looking for without even having to try. This is great in most cases, however it really means that Google is biased towards things that I look at often, and sites related to them. Because Google’s algorithm takes all the information about what I’ve looked at online in the past, it knows what I’m most likely to click on, not what I most need to click on.

For example, if I search for something involving politics and Google knows my political leanings, it may only show me news sources with similar political views to mine. As a result, my perception of issues may be skewed to think that people, or the internet, thinks a certain way, when really I’m only seeing partial representations of the political spectrum. Search engines that don’t track users will help solve this issue because they don’t use my browsing history, or what my political views are on Facebook, to determine what I see.

What Did I Learn Without Google?

After going without Google for awhile, I started to create new habits. I began to think more critically about what I needed to know and which tool would best help me find it. Rather than impulsively searching Google, I started opting for alternative search tools.

Google Is (Was) Everywhere

Log out of your Google account on all your devices, if possible, and start using search engines that protect your privacy. You will soon notice how many ways you’ve been interacting with Google and not even noticing. The ads you see on websites won’t show the exact thing you just searched for. Your phone will stop suggesting directions to the specific place you were about to go.

Search Engines Have Great Responsibility

My biggest realization is that the responsibility that most people (about 75%) hand over to Google is huge. We rely on Google to search the entire internet and show us the top 10 results out of trillions of pages. This assumes that the biggest search engine on earth will actually search the entire internet and that the results it delivers will be relevant and high-quality.

Try switching up your search habits, I bet you’ll learn something too.