The battle between search giant Google and proposed media legislation that would require it to pay major news organisations for linked content – which I’ve discussed previously – heated up recently, with Google stating that it would pull its search services from Australia if the rules as proposed become actual law.
There are arguments for and against the new media rules, but the reality for most of us is that we can’t do much to change whether they do or don’t take effect, although Google is clearly giving it a red hot go.
Stating that it would pull its search functions from Australia entirely is a rather nuclear option on Google’s part. It’s not just a question of financials and ad revenue, with Google’s search also underpinning much of what it offers in terms of maps, mail and all sorts of other services.
However, it’s not as though Google is in fact the only search game in town. At a basic level, for just searching the web there are competitors out there. Google rose to prominence amongst a huge field of search engines by dint of offering the cleanest and best results out of most, and it’s fought hard to maintain that dominance. However, even though many folks do view the word “Google” as a verb synonymous with “search”, you can use other search engines, and it’s feasible in the near future that you might have to.
Microsoft’s Bing is easily the best known alternative search engine, and indeed much of its engine is actually the brains behind some of the smaller competitive search services as well. Bing is still dwarfed by Google in the local search market, and while its text searches are often a little behind Google, the fact that it doesn’t just focus on YouTube means it’s actually often better if you’re searching for video content on the Web.
Then there’s DuckDuckGo, a search engine with a strong privacy focus. Where Google makes its money – and improves its search algorithm – is by tracking much of what you do on the web, something that DuckDuckGo specifically says it doesn’t do. Search results on DuckDuckGo are private by design, and it blocks the tracking methods used by many sites to follow you around the web. Not tracking you, however does mean that it doesn’t have a lot of personalised features, and it can’t quite leverage that personal knowledge to deliver you relevant search results in the same way as Google.
If you’re feeling green when you search, you could try Ecosia, a search engine that promises to plant trees from the revenue it makes from advertising. It’s not quite as private as DuckDuckGo – searches are only anonymised after a week – and is also based on Microsoft’s Bing search engine, enhanced with Ecosia’s own algorithms.
Then there’s Dogpile, which takes the interesting approach of using multiple search engines in the background – including Google – to deliver you what it thinks are the best search results for a given query. It’ll be interesting to see how well Dogpile works when and if Google stops offering search in Australia – although that also depends on whether Google simply blocks Australian IP addresses from using its search functions to comply with the media code, or if it stops indexing those results altogether. The former seems more likely, but we’ll have to see how this ultimately pans out.
The other option that may be open for search users who don’t want to switch away from Google would be to use a VPN to make it appear to Google’s servers that you were in another country. That’s a common approach to get around the geoblocking of content – accessing different Netflix libraries worldwide is rather common this way – that should, in theory, allow one to bypass any block Google puts into play.