Which search engine is the ethical choice?

I generally use Firefox’s default search engine, which is currently Google in most of the world, Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China. I want to help generate revenue for the Mozilla Foundation, which does very important work in my opinion, and needs support.

However, I am now more concerned about supporting companies that provide ethical web services, but I can’t figure out which search company I should support. All of them say that they won’t keep profiles on me or track me or share my personal data, but they are all based on pay-per-click advertising revenue.

Qwant based in Paris, France and StartPage based in the Netherlands have better European laws to protect users than DuckDuckGo based in Pennsylvania, USA, but I’m more concerned with how each company operates.

Qwant says:

Qwant supports the free software philosophy, and wants to put its source code in the hands of the developers community, when its publication does not put the safety of users personal data or Qwant’s infrastructure at risk, and when it does not facilitate malicious exploitations of exposed algorithms.

What that seems to mean in practice (when I look at the code in https://github.com/qwant) is that the client programs to access the Qwant search engines are free software, but not Qwant’s web crawler, indexer and ranking algorithm. On the other hand, Qwant Maps (based on OpenStreetMap) is free software, as is Qwant Masq, which allows Qwant to offer personalized search results from data securely stored on the user’s device.

Qwant’s servers are hosted by Microsoft’s Azure, and it has its own web crawler and indexer and uses 70 outside sources for its data, but it also uses the Bing and Yahoo! search engines and ad network. Yahoo! switched from the Google search engine to the Bing search engine in October 2019.

DuckDuckGo also uses the Bing and Yahoo! search engines and the Bing Ad network to get revenue from clicks on ads, but it also independently crawls and indexes and has 1200+ sources for its Instant Answers and has more independent ad sharing agreements with entities like eBay and Amazon than Qwant. It also seems to do more independent crawling and indexing, since its results are often quite different from Qwant and StartPage, but people also complain that DuckDuckGo’s search results aren’t as good.

DuckDuckGo has more free software in its github repo (https://github.com/duckduckgo) than Qwant’s github repo. DuckDuckGo has open sourced both its web crawler called DuckDuckBot and its Instant Answer platform called DuckDuckHack, but its indexer and ranking algorithm are still proprietary. DuckDuckGo is better than Qwant in terms of open sourcing more of its infrastructure, but DuckDuckGo uses Apple’s maps, whereas Qwant uses OpenStreetMap. DuckDuckGo’s servers are hosted on AWS, and in my opinion Amazon is a worse company for society than Microsoft, whose Azure servers are running Qwant.

I haven’t bothered to investigate StartPage, since it uses the Google search engine, and I don’t want to contribute even more to Google’s search and digital advertising monopoly.

The question is which search engine should I use?


2 thoughts on “Which search engine is the ethical choice?

  1. Mark J. Kropf

    i have not yet had enough exposure to qwant to make a judgment. I am not that keen on giving support, directly or indirectly to Micro$oft, Apple or Amazon with rather limited options in some fashion or other to avoid them.



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