Your search results may vary -- why I switched from Google

Search engine DuckDuckGo released a video a few days ago that shows how Google personalizes results for all signed in and signed out users. It asked 131 people to search for the same Election related topics ("abortion", "gun control", and "Obama") on Google at the same time, and most of them received slightly different results.

That Google personalizes results in this way is hardly new information. The company has been doing it since 2009 and Eli Pariser covered the topic in depth in his 2011 book, The Filter Bubble (a great read). He also gave an enlightening Ted Talk on the subject in which he observes that "the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see."

Filter bubbling is widespread -- it’s far from limited to Google; most big web corporations do it to some degree -- and although for the most part it’s invisible "behind-the-curtain" tinkering, just knowing that it’s going on irritates me at a deep, primal level. I don’t want Google shaping my results any more than I want my ISP shaping my traffic.

I know, based on comments I’ve read and conversations I’ve had, that I’m not alone in wishing there was an option to completely turn off personalization on Google. That there was a way of getting straightforward results to a query without details like where I am, what browser I’m using and who my friends are and what they like, getting in the way. Yes, I’m aware that Google allows signed-out users to opt-out of these personalized searches (all you need to do is go to here and click ‘Disable customizations based on search activity’) but I clear out my browser cookies on a daily basis, and so need to repeat the opt-out process every time, which is annoying.

It’s not just personalization that affects the results being displayed, either. Google recently started adjusting the ranking of pirate sites to please the entertainment companies and while that has zero impact on me, it’s another example of the sort of tampering that goes on behind the scenes to change what information appears when I search for something.

So after thinking about doing it for a while, I finally decided five days ago to switch from Google to DuckDuckGo (I've used the site previously, but never as my main search source). The results have mostly been spot on, so far, but they aren't -- if I’m honest -- always as comprehensive as I’d like. Fortunately, in the rare instances when I can’t find the results I want, the service allows me to run the same search on Google, Bing or another engine. So while I’ve given up Google Search for everyday use, I haven’t yet been able to totally abandon it. I do, however, really like that my results are now the same wherever I search (and whatever devices I search on) so I’m going to keep persevering with it.

Have you tried DuckDuckGo? If so, how have you found it, and what was your reason for making the switch?

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