“I was a little tired of sending an email to a friend, then being offered a few hours later targeted advertising related to the content of the message. So I looked for something else. When Isabelle, 62, retired from national education, starts looking for alternative digital tools, she has already been confronted for a few years with a discomfort that many feel in front of their computer: feeling of being vaguely spied on, vaguely used, without virtuous counterpart. That privacy on the web is not 100% guaranteed. That ecologically, these tools do not shine by their efforts in terms of carbon footprint. That unfair competition, imposed by Google and sanctioned many times, gives a locked and unsurpassable system.
This unpleasant impression is not entirely the result of acute paranoia, as confirmed by Varun Kabra, from Proton encrypted messaging: “There are several dangers in using all of Google’s tools, as your data is collected and monetized. This is their business model: Google sells your profile to advertisers who then offer you targeted advertising. And if we’re talking about messaging, which is not secure, that means anyone at Google can read your messages. That is. But is it really desirable, or even possible, to leave Google? Why do we have a sort of Stockholm syndrome with this company?
If it’s the ecological dimension that bothers you, Ecosia can be an alternative. This search engine “plants trees” when you make a query, with half of the company’s revenue going to planting companies: “When a user enters a query into our search bar, they will have sponsored results among the organic results. Rather than keeping the income from sponsored links, we donate the profits to our reforestation projects. explains Juliette Chabod, manager of the company in France (the parent company is in Berlin). According to the company, a tree is planted every 45 requests. “We plant today in about thirty countries. For more than ten years, 150 million trees have been planted in critical biodiversity areas. Ecosia makes it possible to identify “green” companies thanks to a system of pictograms: a small sheet for companies that have at least one ecological label, a factory for companies that consume fossil fuels.
Another virtuous option, this time more social: the French search engine Lilo, which promises to fund social and environmental projects. But it’s a metasearch engine that relies on results from Google and Bing, and it’s regularly criticized for confusing organic and sponsored results.
Google’s problem (or genius) is its extreme flexibility. From the mailbox to YouTube via Google Maps, it is difficult to isolate the tools to find alternatives according to all your needs. When it comes to emails, Proton may be a viable option. This encrypted messaging is widely used by journalists and activists in digitally monitored territories (Turkey, India, Iran, Hong Kong, United States). It’s also a calendar, a storage space, an integrated VPN, all based in Switzerland, or outside the intelligence sharing community. Despite these precautions, Proton is not infallible: in 2021, the company had to provide the data of Youth For Climate activists to the French police, provoking the ire of demonstrators.
For search tools, you can convert to Qwant (French engine which also uses the Microsoft algorithm) or DuckDuckGo (which guarantees the anonymity of its users and whose results come from many sources, including Yahoo and Bing). Finally, there is StartPage. Praised by users of Tor (decentralized computer network), this service prides itself on being the most private search engine in the world. By questioning ten engines and sites including Bing, Google and Wikipedia, the results are relatively reliable, without leaving traces on the web… but without the ecological or social dimension. Let it be said: beyond Google, there is still a long way to go before healthy competition gives way to the free choice of digital tools.