Self help searching

The news that Google is going to ‘derank’ news stories from Russian Television (RT) set me considering how we have become so dependent on one search engine so that Google’s act of deranking could be a considerable threat.

I’m presuming this is in fact only going to happen in the US in spite of the UK Prime Minister having a go at the Russians at her last speech in the City.
It is sad that Google has such a hold on people’s searches that it is the dominant provider. This also affects every internet business, which, if there were search engine competition, would not be so fearful, or so willing to pay the advertising price of what has become, a monopoly provider.

In this case – of American news feeds, it does thankfully (perhaps for once due to the BBC) this does seem to be a very American phenomenon.

Yes, Britons were misled over Brexit and it is alleged that the Russians had a part in that.

Personally I’m of the view that even if they tried, I don’t think the Russians did anything to mislead us, as the people dishing out all the lies were our very own politicians. People were sometimes gullible, not least Cameron himself in calling the referendum and ordering that nothing should be done to prepare for a no vote. So any Russian influence was really the least of it.

What is more worrying is that Google reigns supreme in searches- in both Europe and the US.
In searching we give them free data that is generally unavailable to others. This is dangerous – they may have come to King’s Cross but we don’t control them in any meaningful sense. They are outside British legal control – and indeed outside effective American legal control. When they have deranked RT they have done it voluntarily.

On a very basic level there is at least one thing we can all do very easily – and that is use Duck Duck Go as our preferred search engine. It may be American but you are never tracked. In some years of using them I’ve never found using Google any better.

Second we should be wary of Google – so lets go in ‘blind’ (without cookies being accepted) if we need to use them (‘Translate’ is the most obvious unique utility) and then go back out. Never use Chrome, use a free browser such as ‘Firefox’. Yes again it’s US based, but at least it’s open source.

Third we really ought to take on board that American monopolies are not what we would like to have. In my view, just as the BBC micro taught me the basics of computing, either the BBC should rescind its cooperation with Google and start its own search engine, or the UK universities – perhaps even now, in cooperation with those in mainland Europe (still possible even after any Brexit!) should create their own search engine. This would be controllable and any profits would be European. European versions of Facebook and Twitter could follow. Of course the competition would squeal, but that’s what monopolies do. And as Mariana Mazzucato has shown most of these monopoly providers rely on original government research and investment, which they then manage to purloin as their own.

I do consider that we, individually have some power in this. If we collectively, do not use Google, be it for email (use the German based free GMX mail instead), browsing or translating, they will in turn have much less power.

The solution is partly in our own hands – individually we have to avoid creating monopolies and choose carefully. Initially it might make for an easier life but we really shouldn’t use the same provider for everything. (If you want competition then you need personally to ensure it!) Only thereafter might our governments see fit to endeavour to intervene against monopoly providers.

Still, in the end it must be better to divide and conquer ourselves – just so our governments don’t have to!


  1. David Howdle -

    I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for some time now without any difficulty. I also use Firefox. Regrettably I’ve got two Gmail accounts. I think it would be difficult and inconvenient to extricate myself from them…

  2. Sean Danaher -

    Hi Peter
    good point. Its deeply sad that whereas the World Wide Web was a European invention and a spin off from CERN by out own Tim Berners-Lee the Americans seem to have commercialised it to such an extent.

    Google seemed to have started out with a slight advantage, I used to use Alta Vista years ago. The problem is that once companies reach a critical mass they can suck in the brightest and best. One of my former colleagues at Northumbria, Joe Faith, who developed a very elegant data exploring tool using Principle Component Analysis was head hunted by Google and is now in California.

    It is a really big worry. I have little faith in the Russians but as you say they are one worry amongst many and probably low down the pecking order so to speak.

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