Practical ways to De-Google-ify your search footprint

Google UK logo adapted to read De-Google-ify

Thank you to everyone who took part in our meetup last month at Birmingham Open Media. This post aims to capture the main points of advice we gave about alternatives to using Google for search. We’ll be sharing more tips about alternatives to other everyday Google services in future posts.

An organiser for Open Rights Group Birmingham showing giving tech advice to three men

Why De-Google-ify?

Most of us recognise the power Google, Facebook, and other internet giants have over our daily lives. Chances are, you’ve been freaked out by just how much Google knows about you (and everyone else for that matter) and what this means for our society as a whole.

For a more detailed look at the issue Google poses for competition, privacy, security, and freedom of expression, please check out our recent post on why you should De-Google-ify your life.

Alternatives to Google search

Google has become synonymous with search, so much so that don’t search for something, we “Google it”. Google is the market leader when it comes to search, but there are good reasons to be concerned about how much you’ve come to rely on the services.

While most Google services are ‘free’, we pay with them through the sensitive data we divulge. Even in Incognito mode, Google’s own Your Data web page acknowledges it records and stores everything you’ve searched for and visited, and ties this back to you.

It’s unclear how long Google keeps hold of your search history for but, given the lack of clarity over this in Google’s current privacy policy, it’s probably safe to assume they hold onto your data basically forever.

Given all of this, what can you do if you don’t want Google to know everything about you?

DuckDuckGo

Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in DuckDuckGo
Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo markets itself as “The search engine that doesn’t track you”. Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo’s privacy policy is refreshingly straightforward, stating plainly:

“DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information”

Unlike Google, which stores your search history to create a detailed picture about you, when you use DuckDuckGo the company has no way of knowing who you are and linking your searches together.

DuckDuckGo’s privacy credentials haved been given a boost by the Tor project, which in 2016 made it the default search engine for the Tor browser. For more information about what Tor is and how it works, watch the video below.

The downside to DuckDuckGo not ruthlessly harvesting your personal data is sometimes the search results you get aren’t quite as immediately helpful as Google and you’ll need to further refine your search in order to find what you’re looking for.

Luckily, DuckDuckGo does still allow you to search Google when you need to. Bangs, named after the American term for exclamation marks(!), allow you to directly search thousands of websites from DuckDuckGo, including Google. Typing in !googleuk followed by your search term will take you directly to the search results. Bangs can also be used to search Wikipedia, Reddit and thousands of other websites.

StartPage

Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in StartPage
Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in StartPage

While DuckDuckGo is improving all the time, what can you do if you really can’t bring yourself to give up on the convenience of Google search results? StartPage web search just might be for you.

Like DuckDuckGo (and unlike Google), StartPage aims to avoid collecting or storing any personal information when you use the service. Its privacy policy states: “StartPage does not collect or share personal information. We don’t track or profile you.”

StartPage acts as an intermediary, anonymously submitting your search query to Google and returns the familiar Google results, minus the tracking. StartPage still makes its money through advertising, but the targeting is limited to the topics you are searching for and the company is not building a gigantic trove of personal information.

While StartPage offers real privacy benefits over regular Google, by using the service you are still supporting the Google beast. Depending on how you feel about that, you may prefer to back upstarts like DuckDuckGo, which represent a cleaner break from the internet giant.

Why you should De-Google-ify your life

Google UK logo adapted to read De-Google-ify

Thank you to everyone who joined us at Birmingham Open Media last week for our meetup on how to De-Google-ify your life. It was fantastic to know so many people are concerned about our collective reliance on Google services and are interested in discovering viable alternatives.

Over the next week, we plan to share examples of high quality alternatives to everyday Google services. In the meantime, here’s an overview of why you should De-Google-ify in the first place.

Continue reading Why you should De-Google-ify your life

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner refuses mobile surveillance Freedom of Information request

Reasons the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner gave for refusing the Freedom of Information Act request for information about oversight arrangements for covert mobile surveillance

The office of the West Midlands Police and Crime and Commissioner has used national security and law enforcement exemptions found within the Freedom of Information Act legislation to refuse our request for more information on the oversight arrangements in place to safeguard the West Midlands Police’s use of covert mobile surveillance capabilities.

Continue reading West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner refuses mobile surveillance Freedom of Information request

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner not publishing key transparency information which previously revealed covert mobile surveillance

Screenshot of West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner monthly expenditure report web page

At last week’s meetup on how mobile phone users are spied on in Birmingham we drew heavily on the great job The Bristol Cable did of revealing police purchases of covert surveillance devices, known as IMSI catchers. Interestingly, just yesterday (1 March) The Bristol Cable published a follow-up story, revealing how in the months since a majority of Police and Crime Commissioners they had featured in their story, including the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner have stopped publishing the monthly expenditure information which was central to their investigation.

Continue reading West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner not publishing key transparency information which previously revealed covert mobile surveillance

Event round-up: How are mobile phone users spied on in Birmingham?

Francis and Leo from Open Rights Group Birmingham standing in front of a projected screen giving a presentation on mobile surveillance to a group of people in the basement room of Birmingham Open Media

Thank you to everyone who joined us at Birmingham Open Media (BOM) on Wednesday for our exploration of how the police are covert surveillance technology known as IMSI catchers to spy on hundreds of mobile phone users at a time. Here’s a round-up of the evening, in case you missed it or would like to know more.

Continue reading Event round-up: How are mobile phone users spied on in Birmingham?

Meetup: learn about how mobile phone users are spied on in Birmingham

Mobile phone mast with blue sky

Join us at Birmingham Open Media at 6.30pm on Wednesday 22 February for our first meetup of 2017.  We’ll be looking at how polices in the West Midlands are covertly using devices- known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays – to indiscriminately intercept and hack up to 500 phones every minute. We’ll be exploring what police use of IMSI-catchers means for our human rights and civil liberties and what we can do to challenge indiscriminate surveillance.

Continue reading Meetup: learn about how mobile phone users are spied on in Birmingham

Is everyday surveillance a religious issue?

Professor David Lyon giving his talk on why surveillance is a religious issue at St Martin's in the Bullring church in Birmingham

Last night (17 October) Open Rights Group Birmingham organiser Francis Clarke attended a talk on surveillance by Professor David Lyon of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University in Canada. Here Francis shares his notes from the event along with his thoughts on what civil liberties campaigners can learn from Professor Lyon’s talk.

Continue reading Is everyday surveillance a religious issue?

#SaveOurSources event round-up

Image of red telephone next to the words 'Save Our Sources', illustrating the Press Gazette's Save Our Sources campaign

We’re pleased to say our #SaveOurSources event at BOM last Wednesday Wednesday (28 September) was a great success. Thank you to all our speakers and everyone who contributed to the event by asking questions in person and via social media.

Here’s a round-up of the event, including links to presentation and other useful resources. Please also check out #saveoursources on Twitter to get a flavour of what we discussed.

If you were inspired by last week’s event, please scroll to the bottom of this page to take action. You can find links below to simple steps you can take to support media freedom and also protect your own online security and privacy.

Continue reading #SaveOurSources event round-up

The Haystack and what Brexit means for digital rights in the UK

Still taken from The Haystack documentary on surveillance in the UK. The image shows people walking along a crowded street in central London and a news headline which says 'Britain is too tolerant and should interfere more in people's lives, says David Cameron'

On Monday evening we held a screening of The Haystack surveillance documentary at Birmingham Open Media, followed by a discussion of what the recent Brexit vote means for digital rights.

Continue reading The Haystack and what Brexit means for digital rights in the UK

Let’s get together to watch ‘The Haystack’ documentary on 21st century survillance

Still taken from The Haystack documentary on surveillance in the UK. The image shows people walking along a crowded street in central London and a news headline which says 'Britain is too tolerant and should interfere more in people's lives, says David Cameron'

We’re excited to announce we’ll be screening ‘The Haystack’ documentary, which examines the rise of suspicionless surveillance in the UK, at our next meetup on Monday 4 July.

Continue reading Let’s get together to watch ‘The Haystack’ documentary on 21st century survillance