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Opinionista

Stop Googling and Bing it, already

mm

Shapshak is editor-in-chief of Stuff.co.za and executive director of Scrolla.Africa

Google pays Apple an estimated $20bn a year to peer into your search activity, which gives ‘prominence to paid results’ making it doubly duplicitous.

‘Let’s Bing it” I often used to joke a few years ago with a good friend who worked at Google. I don’t recall him ever laughing. 

Google may have become a verb for search, but in the process has become a bloated, inefficient, money-making machine. Google’s search quality is now so poor, it’s functionally useless.

Paid-for adverts are intermingled with real search results – which are themselves heavily manipulated by search engine optimisation (another dreaded SEO acronym) which allows other people to literally influence what appears higher in searches.

Google gives “prominence to paid results, which means that the largest platforms with the biggest marketing budgets can dominate the Google search page”, the Competition Commission found after a two-year investigation. 

“Google self-preferences its own shopping and travel units on its search results page,” it found in its Online Intermediation Platforms Market Inquiry report, which was released at the beginning of the month.

Google has been quietly tipping the scale in its own favour for two decades. 

By manipulating its own shopping results, Google doubled this traffic from four million to 10 million in just a year, from November 2007 to October 2008, according to a 2017 report by the European Commission.

“Most of this growth is from improved google.com integration,” according to an internal Google email the EU body quoted.

By becoming the dominant player in internet search, Google has shifted its focus from serving its users to self-serving itself and its real customers: the vast advertising networks that collect and resell consumer data and preferences.

If you buy an Android phone, the default search engine (and browser, App Store, Maps, Photos and other apps) are all from Google – which is the very reason it bought the then-nascent mobile operating system in 2005 for $50m.

It was always designed to extend Google’s dominance in desktop search into mobile but had the unintended consequence of giving it direct access to what is now 90% of all smartphones via the much more fundamental operating system. 

Google continued to track Android users despite them opting out and even wiping their devices, other lawsuits have stated. Enormous fines from both US agencies and European privacy watchdogs have done nothing to tame Google’s avarice. It has incorporated surveillance capitalism into the core of its corporate being.

Meanwhile, Google paid Apple an estimated $12bn a year in 2020 to be the default search option on iPhones and iPads, as the US Department of Justice asserted in a lawsuit that year. This arrangement with Apple is a “significant revenue channel”, the DOJ quoted from an internal Google document

Because almost half of its search in 2019 was via these Apple gadgets, by Google’s own estimates, it would be a “code red” disaster if this arrangement was stopped, the lawsuit claimed.

By 2022, this had risen to $20bn a year, according to Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi’s estimates, up from $15bn in 2021.

Alternative search engines like DuckDuckGo (which I used for the past five years) and Bing (which I have been mostly using since last November when ChatGPT was integrated into its search) have therefore struggled.

Just like most people never change the tyres or mag wheels on their car, nobody changes the default search engine. Get your search engine or browser as the default on a device, and you can pretty much expect nothing to change.

Microsoft is no angel. It faced its own years-long antitrust investigation by various US government departments and agencies over how it bundled its Internet Explorer browser with Windows, which was then the dominant desktop operating system. Those days seem quaint by comparison. Microsoft’s corporate governance has increased, while its business model has evolved. Unlike Google, it doesn’t data mine its own customers to on-sell their information.

But Microsoft is infinitely less evil than Google. Literally any company is – except Facebook.

It will take you two minutes, maybe three, to change your search engine. It’s worth it. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Deborah Bedford-Strohm says:

    How about trying out Ecosia, which plants trees with revenue?

  • Jennifer Tait says:

    Great advice thank you. I’d find it really useful if you could include a brief note about how to change the default search engine on an android phone.

  • John Strydom says:

    Firefox is very security-conscious and is my default search engine.

    • jason du toit says:

      firefox is not a search engine; it is a browser. it can use any search engine as a default, whether google, bing duckduckgo, yahoo, baidu, yandes… the list goes on. duckduckgo is focused on privacy, but its search results are not as good as some of the bigger engines.

  • jason du toit says:

    the thought that bing is not onselling data is ludicrous.

    a quick (non-exhausive) list of things bing collects:
    location;
    ip address;
    unique cookie IDs;
    browser setup;
    date and time;
    what’s typed into the search;
    name;
    e-mail address;
    birthday;
    how you use microsoft products and services;
    which websites you visit (and even if you delete your search history, MS does not remove that history from its servers);
    what games you play;
    data collected from other sources (i.e., data it buys from others);
    your voice (collected from voice searches).

    it links up with social media and has bi-directional data flow.

    it allows external companies to access information in cookies. vertical integration of ad services is an integral part (of both search engines).

    this information is then onsold in the form of serving ads. the info is sent out for bidding on ad space on individual websites.

    unfortunately for bing, google has a better-idexed search repository and and it’s image searches are FAR better. there is a reason people switch from bing to google when using edge.

    if you’re worried about data being sold, check your cookie settings FOR EVERY SINGLE SITE YOU VISIT (including DM!). just about every website in the world onsells that information by way of serving ads on their sites.

    use a service like incogni or deleteme to remove as possible of the data from the internet (it’s almost impossibel to do alone) that you have already shared by clicking “accept” on cookie pop-ups.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    “If you buy an Android phone, the default search engine (and browser, App Store, Maps, Photos and other apps) are all from Google”

    And if you buy a new laptop with Windows11 on it, you get bombarded with instructions to use Edge, which – ChatGPT or not – is still a load of crap, and very difficult to remove as I found out on my wife’s new one. I started using Google when it came out in 1997 or so, and it was great then compared to Ask Jeeves or AltaVista, and it’s still great now.

    Oh and of course you get so much else with Google – like Sheets, Keep, Calendar, Docs, Drive and so on. FOR FREE, unlike the money you have to spend for MS’s software. But then you forgot about that didn’t you?!

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Lol, how about no.

  • Anthony Armstrong says:

    I stopped using Chrome and Google about a year ago and now use Edge and Bing. A much better combination.

  • Rod Murphy says:

    How do I remove Dedge from my android phone?

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