Searching for the search engine

Searching for the search engine

Jeff Ooi

DOES the fact that Vint Cerf, the lauded one of the `Fathers of Internet’, has been a Google employee since 2004 convince you that you are in safe hands using Google applications in your daily life? I am in two minds.

Firstly, I have been a user of the Google search engine since 1999. Now, I use Google’s Gmail as my primary email for its internal search capability, so that looking up emails I sent out two years ago is no sweat. I am also using the Google Web Accelerator that is designed to speed up the DSL surfing experience. And the terms of use carry these scary `at-your-own risk’ stingers:

* Google Web Accelerator sends requests for web pages, except for secure web pages (HTTPS), to Google, and these requests are logged, where personal information may be embedded in some web pages requested.

* Google receives and temporarily caches cookie data that your computer sends with webpage requests in order to improve performance.

* To speed up delivery of content, Google Web Accelerator may retrieve webpage content that you did not request, and store it in your Google Web Accelerator cache.

Will my surf pattern, including visiting subscription-only critical sites, be cached, or worse, be distributed via automated processes without my consent? In other words, will I be `stripped naked’ in cyberspace without knowing it?

More perplexing news is that Google’s business model in China has become a controversy, in that the company is willing to bend rules over the neutrality of the Internet and succumb to China’s tough content censorship. Even search results on Google China can be manipulated to carry only content approved by the authority, while Google’s main site content is blocked at the Great Firewall of China.

The saving grace seems to be that we have placed our trust in folks like Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who was instrumental in establishing the tagline, Don’t Be Evil, as the company’s informal corporate motto. On the surface, the sloganeering sounds like a benevolent principle, a sort of corporate baseline for integrity and good ethics. And Google’s early identity was built on this.

This corporate mantra of Don’t be Evil was put to the test recently. Google’s Brin admitted that his company had compromised its mantra when it bowed to pressure from the Chinese Government and censored the Chinese version of its web site. Specifically, Brin described the Chinese Government’s requirements as `a set of rules that we weren’t comfortable with’.

Though Brin offered his mea culpa and hinted that Google might reverse course in China, it wasn’t the case. Soon after, Google announced that it is staying put in China. The company will sustain its business model there, which includes continued censoring of its search caches and archives.

I believe there is currently no effective way of ensuring 100% confidentiality when you use free Internet services like Google. But for those serious about corporate ethics, it may be time to look at alternatives, such as meta search tools, so that you don’t become over- dependent on Google.

I found two choices. The first is www.jux2.com.

Jux2, which compares Google, Yahoo, and MSN in one search, is built on the premise that search engines differ from one another in more ways than you think. In fact, Jux2 says, these search engines have less than 3.5 of their top 10 results in common! It means that by depending on only one search engine, you could be getting only the tip of the iceberg in web search!

Try it. Jux2’s landing page is one cool, spartan page that’s not unlike Google in its early days!

Alternative two is www.dogpile.com which works on the premise of `all the best search engines piled into one’. It gives you a convenient toolbar, and compares search results from Google, Yahoo!, MSN and an addition of Ask.com. For ease of use, Dogpile.com allows you to search targeted search on web, images, audio, video, news, Yellow Pages, White Pages and travel – very much like Google’s tabs.

By incorporating Ask.com in the search comparison, dogpile.com’s other advantage may be that it can leverage Ask.com’s newly-launched `Blog & Feed Search’ feature that allows users to search for blogs that are indexed, and analyse the use of the RSS feed at Bloglines.com, which Ask.com owns.

I am not sure whether Jux2 and Dogpile are any better than Google’s blog search or that of Technorati.com. What flabbergasted me is that when I typed `Jeff Ooi Malaysia’ into the Jux2 search, it returned the following results: Google (130,000); Yahoo! (53,700); MSN (11,747) for `best results from all search engines’.

It means I am never out of Google’s net.

Copyright 2006

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.