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Escaping Google (and Facebook)

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For example, if you regularly click on links to rabble.ca and vancouverobserver.com articles, you will get a very different Google result for a “Stephen Harper” search than your friend who gravitates towards nationalpost.com and macleans.ca. While this may seem like a good thing, as Pariser notes, it makes it less likely you’ll be exposed to new ideas, and it can reinforce prejudices, intolerance and lack of understanding.

A final thing to worry about: Google (and Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft) all store your data in the U.S. That may be in violation of federal and provincial privacy and freedom of information legislation. My school, Simon Fraser University, recently sent a warning email to staff, faculty and students not to use Google Mail or similar services for this reason.

So what can be done? You can accept the bargain: you exchange your personal data for the services (search, mail, videos, news) provided by Google, Facebook and others. Or you can fight back in various ways. Limit what you say online, resist the urge to “like” or “recommend” things on third-party sites, set your privacy settings to the level you feel comfortable with. You can even “pause” Google’s tracking of your web history. You can object when a public organization requires you to sign into Facebook to participate, or join a Google group.

And there are alternatives, even if they’re not quite as sophisticated as the Google products. Vimeo for videos. Mapquest or OpenStreetMap for directions. But what about search? In a society where "google" is synonymous with "search for", is there an alternative?

Several, as a matter of fact. Though the major players like Yahoo and Bing can be just as zealous as Google in their filtering and tracking, there are less intrusive alternatives, such as scroogle and DuckDuckGo.

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for the past few weeks, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Google or Bing. DuckDuckGo (yes, it’s a silly name -- apparently based on the children’s game of Duck Duck Goose) is a robust, versatile search engine with a one line privacy policy: “DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information.” The DuckDuckGo website has instructions for making it your default search engine. It also offers iPhone and iPad search apps. (And a very informative look at what Google does with your search requests.)

It’s a little slower than Google, and the results won’t be personalized or filtered, but I think that’s a good thing. I may have to wait a few seconds longer and scan a few more items in the list of search results, but that’s a small price to pay for privacy.

For more ways to kick the Google habit, check out these two sites:

Lifehacker - Going Google free

Google alternatives

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