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  1. Europe’s Android ‘choice’ screen keeps burying better options It’s been over a year since Google begun auctioning slots for a search engine ‘choice’ screen on Android in Europe, following a major antitrust intervention by the European Commission back in 2018. But despite hitting Google with a record-breaking fine over two years ago almost nothing has changed. The tech giant’s search marketshare remains undented and the most interesting regional search alternatives are being priced out of a Google-devised ‘remedy’ that favors those who can pay the most to be listed as an alternative to its own dominant search engine on smartphones running Google’s Android OS. Quarterly choice screen winners have been getting increasingly same-y. Alternatives to Google are expecting another uninspiring batch of ‘winners’ to drop in short order. The results for Q1 2021 were dominated by a bunch of ad-targeting search options few smartphone users would likely have heard of: Germany’s GMX; California-based info.com; and Puerto Rico-based PrivacyWall (which is owned by a company whose website is emblazoned with the slogan “100% programmatic advertising”) — plus another, more familiar (ad)tech giant’s search engine (Microsoft-owned) Bing. Lower down the list: The Russian ‘Google’ — Yandex — which won eight slots. And a veteran player in the Czech search market, Seznam.cz, which bagged two. On the ‘big loser’ side: Non-tracking search engine, DuckDuckGo — which has been standing up for online privacy for over a decade yet won only one slot (in Belgium). It’s been come to be almost entirely squeezed out vs winning a universal slot in all markets at the start of the auction process. Tree-planting not-for-profit search engine, Ecosia, was almost entirely absent in the last round too: Gaining only one slot on the screen showed to Android users in Slovenia. Yet back in December Ecosia was added as a default search option with Safari on iOS, iPadOS and macOS — having grown its global usage to more than 15 million users. While another homegrown European search option — which has a privacy-focus — France’s Qwant, went home with just one slot. And not in its home market, either (in tiny Luxembourg). If Europe’s regulators had fondly imagined that a Google-devised ‘remedy’ for major antitrust breaches they identified would automagically restore thriving competition to the Android search market they should feel rudely awakened indeed. The bald fact is Google’s marketshare has not even been scratched, let alone dented. Statista data for Google’s search market share on mobile (across both Android and iOS; the latter where the tech giant pays Apple billions of dollars annually to be set as the default on iPhones) shows that in February 2021 its share in Europe stood at 97.07% — up from 96.92% in July 2018 when the Commission made the antitrust ruling. Yes, Google has actually gained share running this ‘remedy’. By any measure that’s a spectacular failure for EU competition enforcement — more than 2.5 years after its headline grabbing antitrust decision against Android. The Commission has also been promoting a goal of European tech sovereignty throughout the period Google has been running this auction. President Ursula von der Leyen links this overrarching goal to her digital policy programming. On the measure of tech sovereignty the Android choice screen must be seen as a sizeable failure too — as it’s not only failed to support (most) homegrown alternatives to Google (another, Cliqz, pulled the plug on its search+browser effort entirely last year, putting part of the blame on the region’s political stakeholders for failing to understand the need for Europe to own its own digital infrastructure) — but it’s actively burying the most interesting European alternatives by forcing them to compete against a bunch of ad-funded Google clones. (And if Brave Search takes off it’ll be another non-European alternative — albeit, one that will have benefitted from expertise and tech that was made-in-Europe… ) This is because the auction mechanism means only companies that pay Google the most can buy themselves a chance at being set as a default option on Android. Even in the rare instances where European players shell out enough money to appear in the choice list (which likely means they’ll be losing money per search click) they most often do so alongside other non-European alternatives and Google — further raising the competitive bar for selection. It doesn’t have to be this way. Nor was it wasn’t initially; Google started with a choice screen based on marketshare. However it very quickly switched to a pay to play model — throttling at a stroke the discoverability of alternative business models that aren’t based on exploiting user data (or, indeed, aren’t profit-driven in Ecosia’s case; as it uses ad-generated revenue to fund tree planting with a purely environmental goal). Such alternatives say they typically can’t afford to win Google’s choice screen auctions. (It’s worth noting that those who do participate in the game are restricted in what they can say as Google requires they sign an NDA.) Clearly, it’s no coincidence that the winners of Google’s auction skew almost entirely to the track and target side of the tracks, where its own business sits; all data-exploiting business models bandied together. And then, from a consumer point of view, why would you not pick Google with such a poorly and artificially limited ‘choice’ on offer — since you’re generally only being offered weaker versions of the same thing? Ecosia tells TechCrunch it’s now considering pulling out of the auction process altogether — which would be a return to its first instinct; which was to boycott the auction before saying it felt it had to participate. A few months playing Google’s pay-to-play ‘no choice’ (as Ecosia dubs the auction) game has cemented its view that the system is stacked against genuine alternatives. Over two auction rounds when Ecosia has only ended up winning the one slot each time it says it’s seen no positive effect on user numbers. A decision on whether or not to withdraw entirely will be taken after the results of the next auction process are revealed, it said. (The next round of results are expected shortly, in early March.) “We definitely realized it’s less and less ‘fun’ to play the game,” Ecosia founder Christian Kroll told us. “It’s a super unfair game — where it’s not only ‘David against Goliath’ but also Goliath gets to choose the rules, gets a free ticket, he can change the rules of game if he likes to. So it’s not amusing for us to participate in that. “We’ve been participating now for nine months and if you look at overall marketshare in Europe nothing has changed. We don’t know the results yet of this round but I assume also nothing will change — the usual suspects will be there again… Most of the options that you see there now are not interesting to users.” “Calling it a ‘choice’ screen is still a little bit ironic if you remove all the interesting choices from the screen. So the situation is still the same and it becomes less and less fun to play the game and at some point I think we might make the decision that we’re not going to be part of the game anymore,” he added. Other alternative search engines we spoke to are continuing to participate for now — but all were critical of Google’s ‘pay-to-play’ model for the Android ‘choice screen’. DuckDuckGo founder, Gabriel Weinberg, told us: “We are bidding, but only to help further expose to the European Commission how flawed Google’s rigged process really is, in hopes they will help more actively take a role in reforming it into something that actually works for consumers. Due to our strict privacy policy, we expect to be eliminated, same as last time.” He pointed to a blog post the company put out last fall, denouncing the “fundamentally flawed” auction model — and saying that “whole piece still stands”. In the blog post the company wrote that despite being profitable since 2014 “we have been priced out of this auction because we choose to not maximize our profits by exploiting our users”. “In practical terms, this means our commitment to privacy and a cleaner search experience translates into less money per search. This means we must bid less relative to other, profit-maximizing companies,” DuckDuckGo went on, adding: “This EU antitrust remedy is only serving to further strengthen Google’s dominance in mobile search by boxing out alternative search engines that consumers want to use and, for those search engines that remain, taking most of their profits from the preference menu.” “This auction format incentivizes bidders to bid what they can expect to profit per user selection. The long-term result is that the participating Google alternatives must give most of their preference menu profits to Google! Google’s auction further incentivizes search engines to be worse on privacy, to increase ads, and to not donate to good causes, because, if they do those things, then they could afford to bid higher,” it also said then. France’s Qwant has been similarly critical and it told us it is “extremely dissatisfied” with the auction — calling for “urgent modification” and saying the 2018 Commissio decision should be fully respected “in text and in spirit”. “We are extremely dissatisfied with the auction system. We are asking for an urgent modification of the Choice Screen to allow consumers to find the search engine they want to use and not just the three choices that are only the ones that pay the most Google. We demand full respect for the 2018 decision, in text and in spirit,” said CEO Jean-Claude Ghinozzi. “We are reviewing all options and re-evaluating our decision on a quarterly basis. In any case, we want consumers to be able to freely choose the search engine they prefer, without being limited to the only three alternative choices sold by Google. Consumers’ interests must always come first,” he added. Russia’s Yandex confirmed it has participated in the upcoming Q2 auction. But it was also critical of Google’s implementation, saying it falls short of offering a genuine “freedom of choice” to Android users. “We aim to offer high-quality and convenient search engine around the world. We are confident that freedom to select a search engine will lead to greater market competition and motivate each player to improve services. We don’t think that the current EU solution fully ensures freedom of choice for users, by only covering devices released from March 2020,” a Yandex spokeswoman said. “There are currently very few such devices on the EU market in comparison with the total number of devices in users’ hands. It is essential to provide the freedom of choice that is genuine and real. Competition among service providers ultimately benefits users who will receive a better product.” One newcomer to the search space — the anti-tracking browser Brave (which, as we mentioned above, just bought up some Cliqz assets to underpin the forthcoming launch of an-own brand Brave Search) — confirmed it will not be joining in at all. “Brave does not plan to participate in this auction. Brave is about putting the user first, and this bidding process ignores users’ best interests by limiting their choices and selecting only for highest Google Play Store optimizing bidders,” a spokeswoman said. “An irony here is that Google gets to profit off its own remedy for being found guilty of anti-competitive tying of Chrome into Android,” she added. Asked about its strategy to grow usage of Brave Search in the region — outside of participation in the Android choice screen — she said: “Brave already has localized browsers for the European market, and we will continue to grow by offering best-in-class privacy showcased in marketing campaigns and referrals programs.” Google’s self-devised ‘remedy’ followed a 2018 antitrust decision by the Commission — which led to a record-breaking $5BN penalty and an order to cease a variety of infringing behaviors. The tech giant’s implementation remains under active monitoring by EU antitrust regulators. However Kroll argues the Commission is essentially just letting Google buy time rather than fix the abusive behavior it identified. “The way I see this at the moment is the Commission feels like the auction screen isn’t necessarily something that they’ve requested as a remedy so they can’t really force Google to change it — and that’s why they also maybe don’t see it as their responsibility,” he said. “But at the same time they requested Google to solve the situation and Google isn’t doing anything. “I think they are also allowing Google to get the credit from the press and also from users that it seems like Google is doing something — so they are allowing Google to play on time… I don’t know if a real choice screen would be a good solution but it’s also not for me to decide — it’s up to the European Commission to decide if Google has successfully remedied the damage… and has also compensated some of the damage that it’s done and I think that has not happened at all. We can see that in the [marketshare] numbers that basically still the same situation is happening.” “The whole thing is designed to remove interesting options from the screen,” he also argued of Google’s current ‘remedy’. “This is how it’s ‘working’ and I’m of course disappointed that nobody is stepping in there. So we’re basically in this unfair game where we get beaten up by our competitors. And I would hope for some regulator to step in and say this is not how this should go. But this isn’t happening. “At the moment our only choice is to hang in there but at the moment if we really see there is no effect and there’s also no chance that regulators will ever step in we still have the choice to completely withdraw and let Google have its fun but without us… We’re not only not getting anything out of the [current auction model] but we’re of course also investing into it. And there are also restrictions because of the NDA we’ve signed — and even those restrictions are a little bit of a pain. So we have all the negative effects and don’t get any benefits.” While limited by NDA in what he can discuss about the costs involved with participating in the auction, Kroll suggested the winners are doing so at a loss — pursuing reach at the expense of revenue. “If you look at the bids from the last rounds I think with those bids it would be difficult for us to make money — and so potentially others have lost money. And that’s exactly also how this auction is designed, or how most auctions are designed, is that the winners often lose money… so you have this winner’s curse where people overbid,” he said. “This hasn’t happened to us — also because we’re super careful — and in the last round we won this wonderful slot in Slovenia. Which is a beautiful country but again it has no impact on our revenues and we didn’t expect that to happen. It’s just for us to basically participate in the game but not risk our financial health,” he added. “We know that our bids will likely not win so the financial risk [to Ecosia as it’s currently participating and mostly losing in the auction] is not that big but for the companies who actually win bids — for them it might be a different thing.” Kroll points out that the auction model has allowed Google to continue harvesting marketshare while weakening its competitors. “There are quite a few companies who can afford to lose money in search because they just need to build up marketshare — and Google is basically harvesting all that and at the same time weakening its competitors,” he argued. “Because competitors need to spend on this. And one element that — at least in the beginning when the auction started — that I didn’t even see was also that if you’re a real search company… then you’re building up a brand, you’re building up a product, you’re making all these investments and you have real users — and if you have those then, if there was really a choice screen, people would naturally choose you. But in this auction screen model you’re basically paying for users that you would have anyway. “So it’s really putting those kind of companies at a disadvantage: DuckDuckGo, us, all kinds of companies who have a ‘real USP’. Also Lilo, potentially even Qwant as well if you have a more nationalist approach to search, basically. So all of those companies are put at an even bigger disadvantage. And that’s — I think — unfair.” Since most winners of auction slots are, like Google, involved in surveillance capitalism — gathering data on search users to profit off of ad targeting — if anyone was banking on EU competition enforcement being able to act as a lever to crack open the dominant privacy-hostile business model of the web (and allow less abusive alternatives get a foot in the door) they must be sorely disappointed. Better alternatives — that do not track consumers for ads; or, in the case of Ecosia, are on an entirely non-profit mission — are clearly being squeezed out. The Commission can’t say it wasn’t warned: The moment the auction model was announced by Google rivals decried it as flawed, rigged, unfair and unsustainable — warning it would put them at a competitive disadvantage (exactly because they aren’t just cloning Google’s ‘track and target for ad profit model’). Nonetheless, the Commission has so far shown itself unwilling or unable to respond — despite making a big show of proposing major new rules for the largest platforms which it says are needed to ensure they play fair. But that raises the question of why it’s not better-enforcing existing EU rules against tech giants like Google? When we raised criticism of Google’s Android choice screen auction model with the Commission it sent us its standard set of talking points — writing that: “We have seen in the past that a choice screen can be an effective way to promote user choice”. “The choice screen means that additional search providers are presented to users on start-up of every new Android device in every EEA country. So users can now choose their search provider of preference when setting up their newly purchased Android devices,” it also said, adding that it is “committed to a full and effective implementation of the decision”. “We are therefore monitoring closely the implementation of the choice screen mechanism,” it added — a standard line since Google begin its ‘compliance’ with the 2018 EU decision. In a slight development, the Commission did also confirm it has had discussions with Google about the choice screen mechanism — following what it described as “relevant feedback from the market”. It said these discussions focused on “the presentation and mechanics of the choice screen and to the selection mechanism of rival search providers”. But with the clock ticking, and genuine alternatives to Google search being actively squeezed out of the market — leaving European consumers to be offered no meaningful choice to privacy-hostile search on Android — you do have to wonder what regulators are waiting for? A pattern of reluctance to challenge tech giants where it counts seems to be emerging from Margrethe Vestager’s tenure at the helm of the competition department (and also, since 2019, a key shaper of EU digital policy). Despite gaining a reputation for being willing to take on tech giants — and hitting Google (and others) with a number of headline-grabbing fines over the past five+ years — she cannot claim success in rebalancing the market for mobile search nor smartphone operating systems nor search ad brokering, in just the most recent Google cases. Nonetheless she was content to green light Google’s acquisition of wearable maker Fitbit at the end of last year — despite a multitude of voices raised against allowing the tech giant to further entrench its dominance. On that she argued defensively that concessions secured from Google would be sufficient to address concerns (such as a promise extracted from Google not to use Fitbit data for ads for at least ten years). But, given her record on monitoring Google’s compliance with a whole flush of EU antitrust rulings, it’s hard to see why anyone other than Google should be confident in the Commission’s ability or willingness to enforce its own mandates against Google. Complaints against how Google operates, meanwhile, just keep stacking up. “I think they are listening,” says Kroll of the Commission. “But what I am missing is action.” Source: Europe’s Android ‘choice’ screen keeps burying better options
  2. Brave is making a big leap into the search market Brave Search will offer a private alternative to Google Search (Image credit: Shutterstock / bangoland) Brave Software, the company behind the privacy-focused browser Brave, has announced that it has acquired the open search engine Tailcat which it will soon use to enter the search market. Tailcat was developed by the team formerly responsible for privacy search and browser products at Cliqz and the search engine will become the foundation of Brave Search. While nearly all of today's search engines are either built by or rely on results from big tech companies, Tailcat is built on top of a completely independent index which is capable of delivering the quality results users expect without compromising their privacy. In fact, Tailcat does not collect users' IP addresses or use personally identifiable information to improve its search results. Through its browser and upcoming search product, Brave aims to take on Google Chrome and Google Search, which have a 70 percent and 92 percent market share respectively, by offering users more privacy-preserving alternatives. While we're only a few months into 2021, the Brave browser has already seen unprecedented growth this year, reaching over 25m monthly active users. Brave Search In a press release announcing Brave Search, the company explained that its new search product will be private, user-first, independent, transparent, seamless, open and will offer users a choice. Brave Search will not track or profile users and unlike other search engines, it will put its users first as opposed to catering to the advertising and data industries. In terms of choice, it will provide options for both ad-free paid search and ad-supported search and the company is currently working on bringing private ads to search just as its done for Brave user ads. As Brave Software does not believe in walled gardens, the company will offer Brave Search as a means to power other search engines. Brave Search will also be transparent and the search engine will not use secret methods or algorithms to bias its results. The company even plans to explore blockchain-based options and other new developments such as e-commerce. CEO and co-founder of Brave Software Brendan Eich provided further insight on the company's recent growth, saying: “Brave has grown significantly over the past year, from 11 million monthly active users to over 25 million. We expect to see even greater demand for Brave in 2021 as more and more users demand real privacy solutions to escape Big Tech’s invasive practices. Brave’s mission is to put the user first, and integrating privacy-preserving search into our platform is a necessary step to ensure that user privacy is not plundered to fuel the surveillance economy.” Brave is making a big leap into the search market
  3. Under pressure from rightsholders, Google makes pirate sites harder to find in search results. As a result, pirates are increasingly advising each other to use DuckDuckGo instead. Surprisingly, in response to a very popular 'pirate' search term, Google appears to agree its rival is the best option. In an ideal world, search engine users would be presented with the most authoritative set of results in response to a specific search. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world but companies like Google, given the scale of the task, do a reasonable job of helping us find what we’re looking for, with some caveats. Piracy-Related Searches Are Tampered With By design, Google and other search engines have been deciding what’s ‘best’ for us for years. After all, it’s their own algorithms that decide which sites appear in response to any kind of search. Precisely how these decisions are made are closely-guarded secrets but in more recent years and under pressure from copyright holders, we known that Google has been heavily tampering with piracy-related searches. The general line is that Google voluntarily demotes and downranks sites for which it receives large numbers of valid DMCA notices. The theory is that sites are punished for continually infringing copyright so when users search for a particular movie, for example, torrent and streaming sites aren’t presented as the top options. As a result and unless searchers use a considerable amount of ‘Google-Fu’, Google is no longer a good place to find pirated content. In fact, people are more likely to find scammy and dangerous sites instead, as they bubble their way to the top to occupy the vacuum. Need the Pirate Bay Or a Proxy? Forget Google With The Pirate Bay the ‘proud’ receiver of millions of copyright complaints, searching for the site by name in Google is almost pointless. Even though the search term clearly shows what the user is looking for, the site doesn’t appear in the first few pages of Google’s results, unless people search for its precise domain. However, with the site blocked by ISPs all around the world, what millions of people are actually looking for these days is Pirate Bay proxy services that facilitate access to the site. Over time, these also receive millions of complaints so Google downranks these too. DuckDuckGo, on the other hand, produces exactly what one might expect as a result of these searches – ThePirateBay.org on the top and a list of Pirate Bay proxies respectively. DuckDuckGo is Less Comprehensive But Also More ‘Honest’ Search engine DuckDuckGo has a tiny 0.5% of the search market but with its pro-privacy stance, is increasingly favored when it comes to seeking out pirate content. The results that appear in response to searches tend to feel much more authentic when compared to those presented by Google, a suggestion perhaps that less or even no ‘tampering’ is taking place. While this might not please copyright holders, DuckDuckGo’s relative obscurity doesn’t make it a prime target for them right now but in a bizarre twist we noticed this week, it appears Google has somehow determined that its rival is the most authoritative option when it comes to a particular ‘pirate’ search. Google’s Algorithm Promotes DuckDuckGo to the Top Spot This week it was revealed that in Australia, Google will voluntarily block proxies and mirrors of pirate sites without being presented with a court order. This followed a similar agreement in 2019 which saw Google de-index more than 800 pirate sites. This move piqued our interest so we carried out a simple Google search for “pirate bay proxies”. The screenshot below reveals what we were presented with. Accurate But Surprising in More Ways Than One Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this top result is that Google is promoting a rival’s service. This is interesting since whenever it reasonably can, modern-day Google has a tendency to recommend its own product. Had it done that here, however, users would get caught in an infinite loop of finding little of value. The other interesting thing about this valuable top-spot placement is that it promotes a custom search on DuckDuckGo when indexing internal searches of other sites is usually discouraged by Google itself. All that having been said, Google has arguably done its job here to perfection. Either by design or otherwise, its algorithms have determined that DuckDuckGo is the best place to find Pirate Bay proxies. And they have got that absolutely spot on. The Bigger Picture of Search Engines and Piracy It’s worth noting that if we look at the history of piracy on the Internet, it existed long before Google was founded. In fact, most early online piracy didn’t rely on today’s searchable web at all, with locations of file dumps mostly spread via word of mouth, early chat technologies, and newsgroups. But back then, of course, a whole generation was yet to be born, with most parents still unaware that the Internet existed. The point is that while mainstream piracy arguably began with Napster, it only exploded when the content of eDonkey and BitTorrent networks became searchable on the web. Search engines, rightly or wrongly depending on viewpoint, played a massive role in that. What we will probably see in the next few years, however, is that role diminishing again. By choice or by force, Google will undoubtedly clamp down further on piracy and its rivals will eventually have to follow suit. It may take a while but basic searches will no longer prove useful to pirates and they will have to find other ways to educate themselves on where to find content. Most large file-sharing discussion communities – and there were many – died out years ago, partly due to waning interest, partly due to the rise of social networks. But mainly because piracy was no longer niche and presented on a plate, often via search engines. These communities may have to rise again because (and you can quote me on this) Reddit, Facebook and similar platforms will eventually go the same way as search engines when it comes to piracy. Source: TorrentFreak
  4. Ghostery’s Making a Privacy Browser—and Ad-Free Search Engine The tracker-blocking company will soon launch a privacy-friendly desktop browser as well. The popular ad-blocking extension is expanding into new territory—and a new idea of what search can look like without ads.Illustration: Sam Whitney; Getty Images The internet runs on advertising, and that includes search engines. Google brought in $26 billion of search revenue in the most recent quarter alone. Yes, billion. As that business has grown, it’s reshaped what search looks like. Year after year, ads have gobbled up more space on its results pages, pushing organic results further out of view. Which is why using Ghostery’s new ad-free search engine and desktop browser, even in their pre-beta form, feels at once like a throwback to a simpler internet and a glimpse of a future where browsing that puts results ahead of revenue is once again possible. If you’re familiar with Ghostery already, it’s likely through its incarnation as a popular open-source browser extension that blocks trackers and ads. It also maintains a mobile browser for Android and iOS, the former of which has been installed over a million times. Over 7 million people use Ghostery products; a single-digit percentage of them have paid for one of the company’s subscription services. Earlier this year, the company saw an opportunity to expand on its core mission of making digital privacy available to the masses. “We’ve been building the extensions for a long time,” says Ghostery president Jeremy Tillman. “But at the end of the day you’re playing by somebody else’s rules. We thought that we could do a lot more if we played by our own rules.” Courtesy of Ghostery That “somebody else” almost always means Google. The desktop browser and internet search races are not what one might call competitive. As of October, Google’s Chrome browser claimed 69 percent market share; its closest competition, Microsoft’s Edge and Mozilla’s Firefox, hovered at around 7.5 percent, according to NetMarketShare. From month to month, the numbers barely change. And that dominance pales in comparison to search, where analytics firm StatCounter says Google fields close to 93 percent of all queries. Which is to say that building an alternative to Google these days can feel like a quixotic undertaking. German startup Cliqz, which acquired Ghostery in 2017, abandoned its efforts to build a privacy-first search engine from scratch in April. “In the long run, we have no chance against an overpowering opponent such as Google, which dominates the market in every aspect,” wrote Cliqz cofounder Jean-Paul Schmetz at the time. “We are deeply sorry to say goodbye to colleagues who have shown great commitment and passion in achieving our vision.” A bleak outlook. But Ghostery has taken a different route. Rather than rolling out its own search engine or browser, it will instead layer its privacy technology atop Firefox and the Bing Web Search API. The beta should launch by mid-January at the latest; those interested in testing it out can sign up here. The ultimate goal isn’t to overthrow Google. It’s to reimagine what the internet demands of its users. “Nobody delivers ad-free private search today,” says Tillman. “As a first step we thought that was pretty unique. If you’re like, I want privacy and also I just hate ads, Ghostery search is the only option out there for you.” Nothing’s free in this life, and Ghostery is no different. Whereas Google's ad business subsidizes its free services like search and Chrome, Ghostery’s ad-free search requires a Ghostery Plus subscription, which costs $5 per month. The company is working on an ad-supported version that anyone can use for free, a model that would resemble the already popular privacy search engine DuckDuckGo, which places ads contextually rather than based on user behavior. (The business models run the gamut; the privacy-focused browser Brave blocks ads, but it has experimented with paying users who opt to view them.) Courtesy of Ghostery While they’re launching at the same time, Ghostery browser and search aren’t inextricable. The Ghostery browser doesn’t lock you into the company’s search engine; you can choose from six options to use as your default—yes, including Google. Likewise, Tillman says the next phase of growth will include promoting Ghostery search as an option in more established browsers. Actually using the Ghostery browser and search engine in tandem, even at this early stage, is a refreshingly zippy if minimalist experience. That’s partly because of the foundation that Firefox and Bing provide. “We think that the core of the browser is really good,” says Tillman. “We take Firefox and then we strip it down.” That means no integrations like Pocket, which comes standard on Firefox proper. And privacy-friendly settings that might be optional on Mozilla’s browser are turned all the way up by default in Ghostery. (It also comes with a private browsing mode that goes to 11. “It’s much more aggressive,” says Tillman, “to the point where things get a little unusable.”) Over the course of a few days of playing with the pre-beta as my daily driver, I found the Ghostery browser itself to be stable, with all the features you’d expect given its Firefox foundation. In addition to the stock privacy and anti-tracking features you can already find in the Ghostery extension, it takes advantage of Firefox features like Redirect Tracking Protection, which wipes away cookies and site data every 24 hours from sites you don't visit often. It also enables advanced features like dynamic first-party isolation and protection against tracker-cloaking technology by default. Basically, it makes it as hard as possible for ad companies to follow you around the web. My experience with search is a little harder to go on. The iteration I used didn’t have basic features like image, map, news, and video returns, and I ran into an error message whenever I tried to navigate to the second page of results. Tillman says that by the time the beta launches, Ghostery’s search product will include image and video categories, and will soon after add staples like shopping. Presumably whatever bug kept me stuck on page one will be squashed by then as well. As for the results themselves, they were fine! A couple of years ago I used Bing extensively and exclusively, and found that while it had plenty of annoying ticks it actually served up decent results. If anything, by stripping away all of the frippery and bloat that makes Bing a slog, Ghostery offers a stirring defense of that engine's core capabilities. Eventually I missed being able to drill down to news results specifically, or being able to search for images at all—again, that’ll be there in the final build—but honestly there was something refreshing about searching for something on the internet and finding link after link after link about what you are looking for, instead of ads and knowledge panels and AMP carousels. So this is what it feels like when a search engine actually wants to send you to another site. Eventually, Ghostery plans to integrate its ad-tracking tech even further, perhaps allowing you to filter out sites that have more than 20 trackers from results, or ranking pages based on privacy-friendly metrics. Ghostery’s browser and search engine won’t be for everyone. Established browsers like Safari and, yes, Firefox already go a long way toward providing some of the the protections Ghostery promises. Even Chrome plans to phase out third-party cookies eventually. The Ghostery extension also continues to provide plenty of cover for dedicated Chrome users. But there’s a clear and present need for an internet that respects your privacy better than the current one does. A number of companies are trying to build that future, including DuckDuckGo and Brave and the Tor Project, among others. With its impending expansion, Ghostery has solidified its role as one of those architects. Ghostery’s New Search Engine Will Be Entirely Ad-Free
  5. The Association for the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (AZAPI) has filed complaints with Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service against Internet giants Yandex and Mail.ru. According to AZAPI, granting some rightsholders access to tools that remove links to pirated copies from search results while denying the same to publishers amounts to an abuse of their dominant market positions. Every week, millions of Internet users turn to search engines hoping to find links to pirated content. Not to so long ago, this could prove effective but in recent years things have changed. Massive delisting operations to remove billions of links using copyright law have been supported by voluntary initiatives by Google, for example, to downgrade sites for which lots of DMCA complaints are received. As a result, basic searches tend to yield often disappointing results, albeit with some exceptions. Delistings in Russia As Part of a Voluntary Agreement In 2018, leading content companies and distributors plus Yandex, Rambler Group, Mail.Ru Group, vKontakte, and RuTube signed up to a landmark anti-piracy memorandum. Supported by the creation of a centralized database of allegedly-infringing content, Internet platforms agreed to voluntarily query the resource in close to real-time to identify and then delete ‘pirate’ links from their search indexes. Although the Russians have a different approach, they have the same goal as copyright holders in the US and Europe – to make pirated content harder to find in search results. However, unlike the DMCA’s takedown rules and their EU equivalents, this voluntary scheme is currently biased towards large copyright holders involved in video content, with others – such as publishers – excluded. Publishers File Complaints With the Federal Antimonopoly Service Under the umbrella of the Association for the Protection of Copyright in the Internet (AZAPI), major publishers are determined to change this by being heard at the highest levels. Documents obtained by Vedomosti reveal that 15 of the largest publishing houses including Eksmo and AST (which together control 30% of the market), Alpina Publisher, Hachette subsidiary Azbuka Atticus, Mann, plus Ivanov and Ferber, have filed complaints with the Federal Antimonopoly Service alleging anti-competitive behavior by Yandex and Mail.ru. Yandex Should Eliminate Unfair Competition From Search Results Signed by AZAPI chief Maxim Ryabyko, the complaints demand an order that would require Yandex to stop “abusing its dominant position” while removing “unfair competition” from search results. AZAPI says that while Yandex is happy to support other copyright holders as part of the memorandum, publishers are excluded. This means that Yandex’s search results and indeed its other products (Yandex.disk, Yandex.music and Yandex.video) are littered with links to pirated ebooks and audiobooks. Since they are denied access to the voluntary scheme, the publishers have to keep going to court to have pirate sites blocked. However, when sites deploy mirrors to counter blocking, these sites immediately appear in Yandex’s search results, undermining the work done thus far. Mail.ru Allegedly Discriminates Against Some Rightsholders Mail.ru may not be as immediately recognizable in the West as Yandex but its power in Russia cannot be understated. As the owner of social media giants vKontakte, Odnoklassniki (Classmates) and Moi Mir, plus numerous other services, Maril.ru is a major player. As a result, AZAPI accuses the company of abusing its position, including by creating discriminatory conditions for copyright holders. In 2019, vKontakte implemented finger-printing technology that allowed publishers to identify and remove pirated copies of eBooks. While this was a step forward for the publishers, they are now complaining that despite their calls for cooperation, Mail.ru is resisting deployment of the same anti-piracy system on its other platforms. Pirated Content Helps Yandex and Mail.ru Stay Dominant Copyright owners have long accused Internet platforms of indirectly benefiting from piracy. It’s a claim now repeated in AZAPI’s complaints, which allege that Yandex and Mail.ru’s discrimination against publishers help them to maintain both a dominant position and user loyalty. “For many years, illegal content has been an important tool for attracting new users and maximizing the reach of the Russian-speaking audience for social networks, creating a so-called network effect,” AZAPI says. Complaints Under Consideration The Federal Antimonopoly Service has confirmed that AZAPI’s complaints are now under consideration. In a statement, Yandex said that search engines do not know and cannot determine the legal status of indexed content. Mail.ru, on the other hand, said that AZAPI’s complaints do not relate to anti-trust regulations. Source: TorrentFreak
  6. Bing is now very much the Microsoft search engine Microsoft is rebranding its Bing search engine to Microsoft Bing today as part of a rebranding effort. While the vast majority of people are likely to still just call it Bing, Microsoft unveiled its shift toward Microsoft Bing in a blog post today. Microsoft doesn’t go into detail about why it added the company’s name to the Bing brand, other than it reflecting “the continued integration of our search experiences across the Microsoft family.” This rebranding means Bing is now using its own updated logo and a Microsoft Bing logo on the search engine’s homepage. It’s not clear if Microsoft will eventually retire the Bing logo in favor of this more Microsoft-centric logo or simply use both in the future. Microsoft’s new Bing homepage. Microsoft has been experimenting with Bing logos in recent months, with some of that work appearing in the company’s search engine temporarily. The search giant has also been opting to add Microsoft to many of its products in recent years, including the Windows Store changing to the Microsoft Store, and Office 365 moving to Microsoft 365 recently. Microsoft Edge and Microsoft Teams both use the Microsoft branding, while Surface and Xbox have largely escaped Microsoft’s broader branding efforts so far. Alongside this rebranding, Microsoft has been gradually improving its separate Microsoft Search product, which powers results across Windows, Office, and more. Microsoft Search also appears inside Bing to provide organizations a sort of intranet search for documents and more. Source
  7. BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) - ByteDance, the owner of short-video app TikTok, has launched a new search engine in China, entering a sector currently dominated by Baidu Inc. Beijing-based ByteDance is moving beyond its core businesses in news and video and into work-place messaging and music streaming, competing with Tencent Holdings and other Chinese tech firms. The domain for the new search engine, Toutiao Search, sits within the company’s flagship product - Chinese news aggregator Jinri Toutiao. ByteDance, which according to sources familiar with the matter was valued at $78 billion in its last financing round in 2018, declined to comment. The company said on social media last month it was looking to hire people to work with its search engine team, and had hired technical experts from Google, Baidu and Bing. It said the search engine would offer content from ByteDance-owned apps, including Jinri Toutiao and the Chinese version of TikTok, as well as the wider web. Toutiao Search offers censored results like other Chinese search engines, according to searches conducted by Reuters. A search for “June Fourth”, a term associated with the violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, the search engine showed results from the People’s Daily and other official news websites. Baidu has been the dominant search engine in China since 2010, when U.S. search engine giant Google retreated from the Chinese market after it declined to comply with a government request to filter its search results. Baidu in 2018 accounted for 66% of desktop searches and 71% of mobile searches in China, according to market researcher StatCounter. Baidu, which reported its first quarterly loss in May since its 2018 initial public offering, has shrugged off the threat from ByteDance. “We have estimated that there are about two new players emerging in the search engine market each year,” Ping Xiaoli, general manager of Baidu App, told reporters last week when asked about Bytedance’s search engine. “We have been dominating the market over the past two decades,” Ping added. Source
  8. How to change the default search engine in Microsoft Edge (Chromium) It should not come as a surprise that the default search engine of Microsoft Edge -- regardless of whether it is the classic version or new Chromium version -- is Microsoft's Bing search engine. Some people prefer Bing over Google and other search engines and that is perfectly fine; others may prefer to use a different search engine for their searches. I never found Bing to be very good when it came to non-English queries as it seemed heavily focused on English regions and search results. If you are in the same boat, you may want to change the search engine to use it when you run searches from the address bar. I suppose it is also possible to visit the search engine manually instead each time and run searches from the search engine's website, but that is not the most comfortable of options. Tip: you can download Edge preview builds from Microsoft. Change search engine in Microsoft Edge Chromium The quickest way to change the search engine in the new Microsoft Edge browser is the following one: Load edge://settings/search in the browser's address bar; this should load the search settings. Click on the menu next to "search engine used in the address bar" to switch the search engine from Bing to another search engine. The new search engine is used from that moment on whenever you run searches. Edge lists five different search engines there only, and one of the is YouTube. You can switch to Google, DuckDuckGo or Yahoo but that is about it; not the greatest of selections but it may be sufficient if your preferred search engine is on that list. If it is not, my favorite Startpage is not, you have two options: Option 1: Visit the search engine and run a search on it Open the Search Engine in Microsoft Edge. Run a search for TEST or something generic. Open the Search Engines page in the browser: edge://settings/searchEngines Select the three dots next to the search engine that you want to make the default in Microsoft Edge and pick "make default" from the menu. That is all there is to it. Some search engines may not be added automatically. If that is the case, you may use the second option to add them. Option 2: Add the search engine manually Select Manage search engines on the same page. Click on the Add button to add a new search engine to the list. You are asked to fill out the following three fields: Search Engine -- Pick a name to identify the search engine. Keyword -- Optional, may be used to run searches on that search engine if it is not the default. URL -- The search URL that uses the variable %s in place of the query. Click on Add to add the search engine. To get the URL, run a search for TEST or another term that is easily identifiable in the URL. Copy the full results URL into the URL field in Microsoft Edge and replace the search term with %s. On Startpage, you get a search results URL such as https://www.startpage.com/do/search?lui=english&language=english&cat=web&query=TEST&nj=&anticache=502855 when you run such a search. Simply replace TEST with %s and you are done. You may also remove the parameters to streamline the URL so that you may end up with https://www.startpage.com/do/search?query=%s. Source: How to change the default search engine in Microsoft Edge (Chromium) (gHacks - Martin Brinkmann)
  9. The privacy-focussed search engine, Startpage, has announced a news tab for search results. Currently, Startpage gives web, image, and video but the addition of a news tab will bring its feature parity closer to that of competitors, making it easier for people to switch to. As with its other search features, the news results will not be influenced by any tracking, this ensures users see a more balanced list of results. Many search engines use prior searches and browsing history to display results. While these companies say that the results are more relevant, Startpage and other privacy-oriented search engines like DuckDuckGo argue that these “filter bubbles” are more like traps where some results are hidden from you. Instead of filtering news results based on your browsing history, Startpage will filter results based on the time and date that they were published, this way you’ll be able to keep up with all the latest developments as they evolve. Commenting on the new feature, Startpage said in an e-mail: If you're not familiar with Startpage, it is one of the search engines that has gained popularity in recent years following the revelations made by Edward Snowden surrounding state surveillance. Startpage sets itself apart from the competition by storing no IP addresses, no personal user data, and no tracking cookies. Additionally, users can view results incognito with the Anonymous View tool. Source: Privacy-oriented Startpage search engine adds News tab to results (via Neowin)
  10. The Chredge “new tab” page won’t let you hide the Search box, or choose a search provider other than Bing, for the foreseeable future Just saw this tweet from Rafael Rivera: Edge team still has no plan to let you choose your own search provider (or hide the search box completely) on the New Tab Page. The battle continues. He includes a screenshot from the Chredge team’s Top Feedback Summary for February 11:, which shows that these proposed feature improvements have been on the list for the past six months: And they’re still “Under review.” Sigh. Source: The Chredge “new tab” page won’t let you hide the Search box, or choose a search provider other than Bing, for the foreseeable future (AskWoody - Woody Leonhard)
  11. More changes have been announced in the senior leadership of French pro-privacy search engine, Qwant. President and co-founder, Eric Leandri (pictured above), will be moving from an operational to a strategic role on January 15, the company said today — while current deputy managing director for sales and marketing, Jean-Claude Ghinozzi, is being promoted to president. Leandri will leave the president role on January 15 , although he is not departing the business entirely but will instead shift to chair a strategic and scientific committee — where he says he will focus on technology and “strategic vision”. This committee will work with a new governance council, also being announced today, which will be chaired by Antoine Troesch, investment director of Qwant investor, Banque des Territories, per the PR. At the same time, Mozilla veteran Tristan Nitot — who was only promoted to a new CEO role at Qwant in September — is returning to his prior job as VP of advocacy. Although Leandri told us that Nitot will retain the spokesman component of the CEO job, leaving Ghinozzi to focus on monetization — which he said is Qwant’s top priority now. “[Nitot] is now executive VP in charge of communications and media,” Leandri told TechCrunch. “He has to take care of company advocacy. Because of my departure he will have now to represent Qwant in [the media]. He will be the voice of Qwant. But that position will give him not enough space and time to be the full-time CEO of the company — doing both is quite impossible. I have done that for years… but it’s very complicated.” “We will now need to focus a lot on monetization and on our core business… to create a real ad platform,” he added, by way of explaining the latest round of exec restructuring. “This needs to have somebody in charge of doing that monetization process — that execution process of the scale of Qwant.” Ghinozzi will be responsible for developing a “new phase” for the search engine so it can scale its business in Europe, Leandri also said, adding: “For my part I take on the strategy and the tech, and I’m a member of the board.” The search engine company is also announcing that it’s closing a new funding round to support infrastructure and scaling — including taking in more financing from existing backers Banque des Territories and publishing giant Axel Springer — saying it expects this to be finalized next month. Leandri would not provide details on the size of the round today but French news website Liberation is reporting it as €10M, citing a government source. (Per other reports in the French media Qwant has been losing tens of millions of euros per year.) Qwant’s co-founder did trail some “very good announcements” he said are coming imminently on the user growth front in France, related to new civil companies switching to the search engine. But again he declined to publicly confirm full details at this stage — saying the news would be confirmed in around a week’s time. Liberation‘s report points to this being confirmation that the French state will go ahead with making Qwant the default search engine across the administration — giving its product a boost of (likely) millions more regular users, and potentially unlocking access to more government funding. The move by the French administration aligns with a wider push for digital sovereignty in a bid to avoid being too reliant on foreign tech giants. However, in recent months, doubt had been thrown on the government’s plan to switch wholesale from Google’s search engine to the homegrown search alternative — after local media raised questions over the quality of Qwant’s search results. The government has been conducting its own technical audit of Qwant’s search engine. But, per Liberation — which says it obtained an internal government memo earlier this month — the switch will go ahead, and is slated to be completed by the end of April. Qwant has faced further uncomfortable press scrutiny on its home turf in recent months, with additional reports in French media suggesting the business has been facing a revenue crunch — after its privacy-respecting search engine generated lower than expected revenues last year. On this Leandri told us Qwant’s issue boils down to a lack of ad inventory, saying it will be Ghinozzi’s job to tackle that by making sure it can monetize more of the current impressions it’s generating — such as by focusing on serving more ads against shopping-related searches, while continuing to preserve its core privacy/non-tracking promise to users. The business was focused last year on putting in place search engine infrastructure to prepare for scaling user growth in Europe, he suggested — meaning it was spending less time on monetizing user searches. “We started to refocus on the monetization in November and December,” he said. “So we have lost some months in terms of monetization… Now we have started to accelerate our monetization phase and we need now to make it even better in shopping, for example.” Leandri claims Qwant has already seen “a very good ramp up”, after turning its attention back to monetization these past two months — but says beefing up ad inventory including by signing up more ad partners and serving its own ads will now be “the focus of the company”. “For example today on 100 queries we were sometime during the year at 20 ads, just 20% of coverage,” he told us, noting that some ‘iPhone 11’ searches done via Qwant haven’t resulted in any ads being served to users in recent times. “We need to go to 30%-40%… We need to make it better on the shopping queries, brining new customers. We need to do all these things. “Right now we have signed with Havas and Publicis in France for Europe but we need to ad more partners and start adding our own ads, our own shopping ads, our own technology for ads. That’s the new focus.” Additionally, there have also been a number of reports in French media that have alleged HR problems within Qwant. Articles — such as this one by Next Inpact — have reported at length on claims by some employees that Leandri’s management style created a toxic workplace culture in which staff were subject to verbal abuse, threats and bullying. Qwant disputes these reports but it’s notable that the co-founder is stepping back from an operation role at a time when both he and the business are facing questions over a wave of negative domestic press, and with investors also being asked to plough in fresh financing as a key strategy customer (the French government) is scrutinizing the product and the business. The health of workplace culture at technology companies and high pressure startups has come in for increasing attention in recent years, as workplace expectations have shifted with the generations and digital technologies have encouraged greater openness and provided outlets for people who feel unfairly treated to make their grievances more widely known. Major scandals in the tech industry in recent years include Uber being publicly accused of having a sexist and bullying workplace culture by a former engineer — and, more recently, travel startup Away whose CEO stepped down in December after a bombshell report in the press exposing a toxic culture. Source
  12. you can bing if you want to, you can leave your users behind — Office365 Pro Plus won’t hijack your search engine after all Sysadmin blood pressures—and projected support call volumes—decreased sharply. Enlarge / Stop trying to make Bing happen, Microsoft. It's never going to happen. Paramount Pictures In late January, Microsoft announced that a near-future Office 365 update would roll out a Chrome extension forcing all searches to run through Bing, regardless of the user's configured search engine preference. Several weeks of torches and pitchforks from sysadmins and users alike seem to have convinced the company that this was a tactical error, and today Microsoft announced a change of plans—although they couldn't resist prefacing it by announcing how exciting the original, unpopular change really was. On January 22, 2020 we announced in advance that the Microsoft Search in Bing browser extension would be made available through Office 365 ProPlus on Windows devices starting at the end of February. Since then, we’ve heard from many customers who are excited about the value Microsoft Search provides through Bing and the simplicity of deploying that value through Office 365 ProPlus. With Microsoft Search integrated, Bing becomes a single search engine for users to find what they need - both from inside their organization and the public web. But we’ve also heard concerns about the way we were planning to roll this value out. The Microsoft Search in Bing browser extension will no longer be deployed by default to Office 365 Pro Plus users. Instead, administrators will get a new toggle in the Admin Center allowing them to deploy the extension to their organization—and, importantly, the toggle defaults to off. For now, even when an admin decides to toggle the feature on, it only affects managed (Active Directory domain joined) devices—employees' personal and home computers won't get Binged as a result, even if they've used some of the five legitimate installations per license to put Office 365 Pro Plus on those devices. (Microsoft does plan additional settings to allow more granular control of unmanaged devices in the future, so BOFHs will simply need to be patient.) Those few organizations that decide to toggle the feature on will likely receive a lot of flak from their own users about it. With the Microsoft Search in Bing extension installed, the user-controlled default search setting becomes irrelevant, and every search in the bar goes through Bing regardless. Confusingly, this can be overridden—but only within the extension itself, not in the browser's own configurations. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 3 images. To be completely fair to Microsoft, its demo screenshots of Microsoft Search do look fairly compelling—in one screenshot, an employee profile visible only inside the corporation pops up in a search for that employee's name; in another, a link out to a company vacation scheduling tool shows up on a search for "vacation policy." Of course, even aside from search engine preferences, this does raise a question of how much work is required to get Bing to find these types of resources in the first place. The employee profile in the screenshot could be lifted directly from Active Directory user information, but we're not sure Bing would automatically find every oddball spreadsheet, Web form, and third-party scheduling tool you might find in use in real-world companies. If Microsoft Search for Bing ends up providing results no better maintained than the typical internal SharePoint intranet site, the value proposition would be sharply reduced. Source: Office365 Pro Plus won’t hijack your search engine after all (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
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