Why privacy-focused search engines matter to browser users


Tarquin Wilton-Jones

Tarquin Wilton-Jones has been working with web browser security since 2005. He is part of the security team at Vivaldi browser. You may also find him exploring the great outdoors, with caving being his speciality.

More and more people don't want to be tracked online. This is a guest post by our friends at Vivaldi Browser on why people want to take control of their data.

We’ve been building Vivaldi browser for more than five years and have learned something very valuable – people want to take full advantage of what the Internet has to offer. But they also want to do it on their own terms. They want to have a choice. And part of the equation is staying private and secure online.

More and more people don’t want to be tracked online. They don’t want their personal data collected and sold to the highest bidder. People have come to realize that personal data such as age, gender, location, income, hobbies, and so much more is valuable and should stay private. People want to take control of their data.

As our need for privacy grows, so do the privacy enhancing technologies. It’s now easy to search with privacy-focused search engines, block trackers, or use encrypted messaging services.

Having a choice is truly becoming the norm.

In the browser industry, that choice should extend to everything from bookmarks and tab management, to using a tracker blocker, to your choice of a search engine.

Choose privacy

In Vivaldi browser, you are free to choose the search engine that is right for you. Among the predefined options are privacy-focused search engines, including our search partner of three years, Ecosia.

Being able to choose a privacy-focused search engine is essential if you want to protect your privacy online. Even if your browser doesn’t track you, your search engine can track every search you do down to at least IP address level. They can track the searches you perform as well as the search results you click on. If you enable search suggestions in your browser (disabled by default in privacy-friendly browsers like Vivaldi) the search engine can even see the text you write into the search field even if you choose not to actually search for it after typing.

Think about it. Your search history can reveal everything about you.

Search engines can build a profile of all the things you like to search for and note changes over time, e.g. if you start searching for a new medical condition. That profile is very valuable to advertisers and is worth a lot of cash. In even more serious cases, data like this has been used to influence election votes, or facilitate identity theft. You might trust a search engine or advertiser not to do that, but once the data is sold, it can be used by anybody who can afford to buy it.

Even though most search engines aren’t able to track you across websites, some, such as Google, thrive on cross-tracking. They have their own tracking scripts all over the web – on more than two-thirds of websites in fact.

A search engine that doesn’t track you does not collect any of your searches. Alternatively, it will anonymize your searches shortly after they are completed – this is what Ecosia does. Privacy-focused search engines don’t own trackers either.

They don’t sell user data or searches to advertising companies and don’t use third-party trackers such as Google Analytics.

At the end of last year we asked our users if the privacy reputation of a search engine is important to them. A whopping 84% told us that this was the case.

Choose neutral search results

When the web was born 30 years or so ago, there were no algorithms. Everyone had access to the same internet.

But that’s all changed. Thanks to complex tracking, your search results are now personalized. That means the search results you get aren’t objective. Search engines show you what they think you are most likely to click on.

In the same Vivaldi browser survey, 82% of our users said that they look for neutrality of search results when they pick a search engine. Users are simply alarmed by search engines bringing up biased search results.

A privacy-focused search engine such as Ecosia will not only protect you from surveillance, it will also give you neutral search results.

This will broaden your horizons, rather than narrow them. Your searches won’t be filtered to show you just what you believe in. You won’t always see the same perspectives. And you won’t be put in an information bubble.

Choose ethical businesses

Privacy goes hand in hand with an ethical attitude. That’s where all the trees Ecosia plants come in. I grew up in a rural area, up in the mountains. I now live in a rural part of Britain, and I cannot imagine life without nature. Support organizations that take care of our planet. Support organizations that take care of our privacy. Ethical companies such as Ecosia and Vivaldi browser are making waves by giving us a chance to choose an internet that serves us, on our own terms.

Get Ecosia for free and plant your first tree! Add Ecosia to Set as Homepage Search with Ecosia x