My Journey to Better Privacy (Part 1: Search)

Introduction

The subject of privacy, for me, is one I’ve been more or less dodging for a long time. It’s something I feel strongly about. I make half-hearted attempts at improving it now and then. But overall I’ve mostly let it go by the wayside. It’s really easy to retweet statements by privacy-focused groups or to make recommendations for what others should do. But when it comes to true and meaningful lifestyle change, it’s tough. There is always a rationalization for why it just isn’t worth it.

And so here we are, time to stop making excuses. I’ve decided to set out on a journey to better privacy. In all of life I’ve discovered that taking things in small steps is always more successful for me than changing all the things at once. So I’m going to take one area at a time and tweak it to be more privacy-focused. As I do so I’ll also be discussing with you the pro’s, cons, and flat out pain of each step. But, at the same time there is always the question of how thick you make the tin foil hat. I’m a tech-oriented person that works in a tech-oriented field. Because of my level of exposure to electronics and the internet I will never fully have privacy. I will, however, be trying to strike a balance between obtaining optimal levels of privacy and being able to live a somewhat normal life.

Step 1: Search

The first step on this journey is swapping my search engine. I chose this to be the first one as an easy entry point, because I’ve done it off and on in the past. Over the years it’s become very apparent that Google is not our friend. They are not a tech business that are our buddies. They are an advertising business that’s using our love of free, high-quality software to soak up unthinkable amounts of data. DuckDuckGo, however, is the closest thing in modern day to what a search engine should be. I should have swapped to it permanently a long time ago. Because I’ve struggled with this already I can go ahead and tell you the up and down side.

The Pros

DuckDuckGo provides what you actually want from a search engine, search results without having your essence sucked away as you use it. They don’t track you, ever. Your searches are yours alone. Secondly, they don’t contextualize your search results based off data collected about you (further locking you into your own echo chamber). Most of us probably don’t even realize how tailored our results are to the information Google has on us. Does this provide extremely relevant results? Yes, but at what cost?

TLDR: It’s not watching you like a creep.

The Cons

What? You’re recommending something to me and it isn’t perfect??? How dare you Landon!

No, DDG isn’t perfect. Neither is Google, we’ve just gotten so used to it that we don’t even notice. I mentioned above that I’ve made multiple attempts at swapping. Each time I would be led by my convictions and eventually bow to convenience. Google searches are just GOOD. I mean, flat out really good. If I search for something in DDG and don’t almost immediately find it in the first 1-3 results then I get frustrated and run it in Google. It’s just the way we’ve been conditioned to operate. But, when I run it in Google I almost always find it right away. During most of my IT career I’ve been in a support role, and finding the correct answer right away outweighed my privacy concerns. Then, if I was going to do it with work I justified doing it with my personal devices too.

So what’s different this time? I’m currently in a role where I’m not under pressure to find results instantly. I can take the necessary time to adjust to how DDG operates and give it a chance to give me what I need on result 4 or beyond. And as I’ve done that, I’ve honestly found that what I need is there if I will take the .05 seconds of patience required to look for it. I’ve heard from others that, over time, as Google is given less info on them then the two providers have much more similar results.

One last area of challenge is that this will apply only to me. My wife has been extremely resistant to swapping to DDG in the past and I don’t expect that to change now. This is actually something you’ll face at every turn when trying to live a more privacy-focused life, those you interact with the most will be reluctant. The truth is that the average user just doesn’t care, and ones that consider it find the transition pain enough of a barrier to stop.

TLDR: There will be a period of adjustment because Google is so freaking good, but keep in mind what you’re giving Google in return (do you even know?).

TLDR

I’m swapping search on all my devices from Google to DuckDuckGo, and you should too. Drop the creepy guy looking over your shoulder (probably with a weird mustache) and keep your searches to yourself. Learn more about DDG here.

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