This is partly because Google pays to be the default search engine on most of our browsers and devices – but it is also because Google has been hoovering up our data for decades now and can personalise your search results in a way no other product can. Google knows you better than your closest friends. That’s why it is following you around the web with those diet pills.
Given that we may be opening our screens to a goodbye message from Google in the near future, perhaps it’s time to consider our options.
Microsoft’s Bing is the obvious choice – and the easiest one to use for most Australians. It feels sparse and familiar, offers a personalised search, though it is not as uncanny in its results as Google, and it has most of the search features we have come to expect. You can download it from app stores if you’re on a mobile device or make it the default search engine in your browser. It’s the second most popular search engine in Australia after Google and it’ll take you two minutes to install.
Yahoo still exists, which may come as a shock to those of us who last used it in the ’90s, but its search results are powered by Bing now anyway: if you choose this product it does have some extra features such as the Yahoo Finance platform, if sharemarket quotes are your thing.
Ideally, Australians will use this juncture as an opportunity to think about data privacy.
It’s actually fairly easy to take some small steps to protect your data, and it starts with your choice of search engine. DuckDuckGo doesn’t hoover up information about you like Google does, and it is easy to download or set as a default in your browser. It won’t give you the personalised results Google does precisely because it doesn’t know who you are.
This will be a novel experience for most Australians. We don’t know what it’s like to be anonymous anymore. We’ve had Google peering over our shoulder for decades now and it has started to feel normal.
It is time Australians considered their options. If Google pulls search here there will be an immediate effect on the Australian news media and on most online businesses, and average Australian users will need to change how they access the web. But that is only because we have become so dependent on it – not because other options don’t exist.
We will recover quickly if we learn to use alternative search engines. We may even be better for it.