25 JANUARY 2022 / PRIVACY
For some time now, I have been trying to switch from the big players to more privacy-friendly alternatives. Here I would like to recommend some tools that I use myself in everyday life.
Art. 13 Right to privacy
1 Every person has the right to privacy in their private and family life and in their home, and in relation to their mail and telecommunications.
2 Every person has the right to be protected against the misuse of their personal data.
Art. 13 of the Swiss Federal Constitution  states unequivocally that every person has the right to privacy. Art. 13 is therefore the basis for the FADP, which, by the way, will be revised shortly. This already puts us in the middle of data protection. Although every person has the right to privacy, it is very often and easily abandoned or even disregarded.
In a first step, many people (including me) give up parts of their privacy in order to either get information more easily (e.g. search engines), to exchange information more easily with other people or simply to get access to entertainment. Each person should be able to decide for themselves to whom they disclose information about themselves. At least in theory. In practice, however, many people (including myself, no doubt) are not always aware of what information they disclose about themselves. If I search for “Husky puppies Switzerland”, this may initially only tell the search engine, that I would like to buy a dog in Switzerland. But at that moment I am probably hardly aware that I am revealing much more information about myself. This search could provide clear information about my life situation: The more concrete the interest in buying a dog, the more likely it is that I have a stable life situation: I probably have a stable income situation, have people around me who would look after the dog if the need arose. Since huskies need more exercise than, for example, a dwarf spitz, I may even be giving information about my health. This example could be taken even further and as soon as this single search term is combined with other searches, one can very quickly create a relatively accurate and extensive personality profile.
If you use Google regularly, I recommend that you visit the following page to view your personality profile (this assumes that you have not turned off advertising personalisation on Google). Here you may find relatively accurate information about your interests, age, gender, marital status and education.
Click here to go to the page: Advertising settings at Google
A similar function is also available at Bing, for example: Bing advertising settings.
With this data, advertisements are tailored to you. Now that may not bother you, there’s nothing to hide and search engines are allowed to know this information about. Here I would like to ask the counter-question why the search engines need to know this information about you (or rather why they need to know this information for longer than is absolutely necessary to answer the search query). Would you, for example, really ask the question “What to do if you have bladder infection?” and the accompanying information that you are currently suffering from bladder infection to complete strangers and an indeterminate number of people? By the way, this question is the second most googled “what”-question in Switzerland in 2021..
If you answered “no” to this question, you are in the right place and there are two options available to you. Either you deactivate personalisation in your search engine, or you go one step further and switch to a search engine that does not store any information about you by default. The first option does not prevent the search engine from processing information about you and creating a profile, but at least prohibits it from using said profile for advertising purposes.
First of all, it must be pointed out that privacy-friendly search engines do not create personality and interest profiles and therefore the search results are not tailored to the interests of the person searching. I have also noticed that depending on the search, one or the other search engine shows better results. In the meantime, however, I have found a search engine that I can use in everyday life without any disadvantages and where the risk-benefit analysis was positive for me.
The following must be taken into account with Startpage: Startpage also embeds advertisements, but these are not aligned with the interests of the person searching. The advertisements are thus equivalent to an advertisement on a bus or tram. Startpage was confronted with great criticism in the privacy community in 2019, when a US company joined as a major investor. It should be added here that Startpage continues to be operated in the EU by an EU company and is therefore still subject to the GDPR. In the process, functions of the investor company appear to be used for Instant Answers at the “application server” level, but this server does not have identifying data due to anonymisation on the “premise servers”. In the Startpage settings, the server location can also be restricted to Europe. In contrast to alternative search engines, this is a clear improvement for me.
Of course, I also tested other search engines. One of these search engines was Qwant. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that Qwant did not display suitable results, especially for legal search queries. Qwant would also have been high on the list as a second European search engine.
DuckDuckGo also did not give me the same search results. The fact that the search engine is based in the USA was another reason for me not to use it.
I have not yet tried the Swiss search engine Swisscows, but I will definitely do so when the opportunity arises.
Nothing to hide article (Startpage Blog) dated 4 June 2020 - How does Startpage actually work?, last visited 29 January 2022; How Startpage processes and protects your data, last visited 29 January 2022. ↩
Art. 4 item 1 GDPR. ↩