StartPage, your private search engine

Most of you probably have already seen how items related to your searches on google or bing, end up in the advertisements on other pages you visit.   For example, searching for vacations in Spain, very soon after, you get advertisements for the same when you visit sites that are not related to Spain, such as news sites.   How do they know?
The reality is that your search engine, your email, your online (cloud) document service, all sell your information to advertisers.   How indeed do you get all those services for free?
Some time ago the saying was popularized:  “If you’re not paying for an online service, YOU are the product being sold.”   Your information, your searches, your purchasing patterns, your profile, location, and what time of day you use your browser, are all information that advertisers are interested in, and are happy to pay for.

The spin is that all of this is done for YOUR benefit, right?  The advertisements are for things you are looking for, not irrelevant products and services that you don’t care about.  This is the contradiction of modern internet usage:  to be the most useful and HELPful, a service needs to know you, and your habits, and preferences, intimately.  Helpful, sure.  But if you think about it, also creepy, if the people who know you so well (perhaps better than you know yourself!) are complete strangers whose goal is to make money off your information.   One side effect of eliminating such intrusion (part of the price you pay for privacy) is that your searches will no longer be as directly relevant to your life, your individual preferences, your history, etc.

What can an ordinary person do?  Use a search engine that doesn’t track you and sell that information?  Do any even exist?

StartPage is one of these search engines based in the Netherlands (in compliance with EU privacy laws).  Their companion email product StartMail,  “is based in the Netherlands, outside of US jurisdiction, where it is not subject to US mass surveillance mandates. What’s more, the Netherlands protects privacy by law.”  Bottom line is you still have to trust StartPage is actually doing what they say.  Better than just trusting them blindly, you can refer to their external audits by privacy organizations, examine the audit report for yourself.  

I asked Liz McIntyre, a privacy consultant and advisor to StartPage, why we should believe that StartPage is any different:  one of the more compelling ones is that it has been audited by an external security agency who verify the claims made by StartPage.   I also asked, how it can be funded if they don’t sell the search results – there are ads on your page but they are based on your search session, without building a history linked to your identity.  Every search starts fresh so you don’t get trapped in the “filter bubble” where your search engine produces information that only confirms your bias and eliminates other points of view.

You can change your default search engine in your browser by following simple instructions posted on their site.    Happy (private) searching!

See upcoming post on DuckDuckGo and comparison to StartPage.