The internet has a great tendency to favour large, global, centralized service providers with world famous brands and web addresses we can all remember (since you never walk past a local website, as you would a physical store) – and this is nowhere more evident than in the world of search engines. Google utterly dominates the world of internet search, and it is ordinary internet users who pay the price for this dominance.

The Problems with Google

Google collects a huge amount of data on regular internet users, both from its search logs and from its advertising service which places cookies on your computer to track the websites you visit. The company retains a record of everything which all of its users search for, forever.

This is used to build up a profile of you for advertising purposes. Not only is this creepy, and not only does it open the door to sophisticated advertising techniques designed to manipulate people based on a deep understanding of their individual personality, but it is also so powerful that it gives Google and unhealthy amount of power in the world of internet advertising – which means it can effectively decide which website live and which ones die by deciding which it will serve advertising to. Some news sites have already accused the search giant of using this power to censor important but controversial reporting.

Due to the lazy practices of intelligence services who rely on automated systems to analyze data looking for criminal activity, and the known cooperation between Google and agencies such as the CIA and NSA, this can also lead to innocent people being harassed by authorities. For example: academics researching terrorism being raided as if they were terrorists.

The fact that all of this data is stored in central servers also means that it is susceptible to hackers, who break in to company computers to steal data.

As a giant multinational corporation, Google operates in pretty much every country in the world. But bases itself off-shore so as to avoid paying the proper tax that it should rightful pay in any of those countries. Although this is legal ‘tax avoidance’ rather than illegal ‘tax evasion’, most people agree that it is immoral and basically amounts to the company leaching of every economy it operates in.

The way that Google calculates its search results is also responsible for encouraging a massive amount of link spam, which places a big burden on anyone who runs a website (I actually had to close down a website I ran once, primarily because of the cost of dealing with this link spam) as well as making internet use that much more annoying for regular users. This is because Google calculates which sites to put at the top of  its search results in large part based on how many links are pointing to that site. Because of this, spammers are constantly engaged in a battle to get to the lucrative top spots by posting their links anywhere and everywhere they can. Although Google has taken many steps to try to reduce this, they are still a long way from eliminating it altogether.

A Decentralized Solution

Faroo is a decentralized web search engine which offers full encryption to protect the privacy of its users.

It has a distributed crawler and index which makes it strongly resistant to any form of censorship. All searches are anonymous, and all data is encrypted, meaning that it suffers from none of the privacy issues described above.

The decentralized nature of this service also allows for another innovation which removes the incentive for link spam. Instead of ranking web pages according to how many links they have pointing to them, they are ranked according to how much time Faroo users spend on that particular page and how often they visit it. Because of the strong privacy protections offered by Faroo’s encryption, users who download the crawling software (optional – you can use the search without contributing) can feel confident in allowing their browsing data to be used to help build the distributed index of web pages, safe in the knowledge that no person or company can view their data or connect their contribution to the index back to them personally.

Faroo is not perfect. Personally I would like to see it integrated with blockchain technology to provide decentralized governance to fund development (rather than it being run as a private company as it is now) and to provide rewards to people who run the software on their computer in order to increase the size of the index. I would also like to see it become open source. But, it is at least a step in the right direction, and when I tested it out I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the search top results and its ability to return a good number of results for even fairly obscure searches.

You can test it out and add them to your browser’s search options here: http://www.faroo.com, or if you are willing to download the crawler and help make it more decentralized and produce better results then go here: http://www.faroo.com/hp/p2p/download.html