Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Search Engines & Databases

Choosing a Search Engine | Databases & Indexes
Effective Searches | Privacy Issues

Search engines and databases help you find information.

Some of the information has been moved from this page to Verifying Information including hoaxes & urban legends and fake news. Google's Monopoly is now a separate page.

Choosing a Search Engine

Helping You to Find it on the Web

Search engines evolved to help you locate information found within the millions and millions of websites, blogs, social media and other Internet resources.

Google Threatens Your Privacy and More

Because the currency of the Web is metadata, the collection of this data can affect your privacy as well as the accuracy of your search.

Google is the world's most popular search engine. In fact, Google has 4.3 billion users worldwide meaning the platform receives roughly 92.2% of all search traffic online.
Ghostery

Google became a very effective search engine, but that has come as a cost to your privacy. Google has become a monopoly, so powerful that no business can afford to ignore its influence.

More recently, some have begun to question Google's effectiveness, particularly with health and recipe searches. There seems to be more emphasis on sales than information.

Privacy-based Search Engines

Because search engines threaten your privacy, the information collected and how it is used needs to be as important a consideration as the accuracy of the data.

To be useful, the search results need to be both accurate and unbiased but if your privacy is compromised, you have paid too high a price.

Startpage, DuckDuckGo & Ghostery Glow preserve your privacy.

Startpage

Startpage.com offers you Web search results from Google in complete privacy!.

Startpage is the world's most private search engine, offering you best-in-class search results without fear of having to surrender your search information or other personal data.

Make StartPage Default

I recommend making Startpage.com your default search engine. The methods vary by browser. There is a Firefox addon.

Learning More

Learn more about Startpage on these YouTube videos:

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGoPrivacy Simplified — is a search engine that does not collect or share personal information. Why this is important.

It's actually a big myth that search engines need to track your personal search history to make money or deliver quality search results.

 

Almost all of the money search engines make (including Google) is based on the keywords you type in, without knowing anything about you, including your search history or the seemingly endless amounts of additional data points they have collected about registered and non-registered users alike.

 

In fact, search advertisers buy search ads by bidding on keywords, not people…. This keyword-based advertising is our primary business model.
DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg

Microsoft Partnership Weakens DuckDuckGo

Apparently, Microsoft has a special deal with DuckDuckGo:

DuckDuckGo, the self-styled “internet privacy company” — which, for years, has built a brand around a claim of non-tracking web search and, more recently, launched its own ‘private’ browser with built-in tracker blocking — has found itself in hot water after a researcher found hidden limits on its tracking protection that create a carve-out for certain advertising data requests by its search syndication partner, Microsoft.
TechCrunch

Ghostery Glow

Our mission is to augment the browsing experience to make the web transparent, fast and private for everyone.

Ghostery Glow is a privacy-focused search engine that doesn't log your search history but does provide insights into the trackers you'll encounter on the web pages search results will send you to.

Ghostery Glow comes in both a paid version (ad-free) and a free version as well as built into the Ghostery Dawn browser.

Ads in a Privacy Browser?

Someone has to pay the bills and advertising is a transparent alternative to sneakily collecting personal data for resale.

Ghostery Glow's ads are in context with relevant search results and are NOT personalized.

Learning More

Learn more about Ghostery Glow and the Ghostery series of privacy projects:

Other Search Engines

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Databases & Indexes

Databases

Translation & Writing Tools

Phone Numbers

When looking for information you can use one of the following listings:

You might find it easier to simply search for the phone number in your favourite search engine.

Tracing Unwanted Calls

Unwanted calls have become a common nuisance.

Scam Calls

Phone calls from a “technical support” person saying that you have a problem with your computer are all SCAMS. There are many varieties of scams, all designed to steal from you. Just hang up. More…

It is better to hang up than risk having your identity stolen.

Social Media Scams

Be wary of personal approaches on social media like Facebook or Instagram, especially when they try to get you to do something uncharacteristic of your real friends.

Signs include

  • an account with no prior activity but contains photos and information stolen from a legitimate account;
  • attempts at friendly conversation that appear stilted or probing for information your friends would already know;
  • requests for help that appears urgent or requests for you to purchase gift cards then provide the redemption codes; and
  • anything that makes you uncomfortable.

Don't accuse the person, but end the conversation quickly (e.g., “I have to go.”). Once offline, contact the person whose account you believe was hacked or duplicated via phone using a number you already have, then ask if they were trying to reach you.

In no case should you reconnect with the fake account. Block it, then inform the social media site of a potential fraud.

People Search

Watch for fees when using these services.

The rise in concerns about privacy are having an effect on what is available for free.

Postal/Zip Codes

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Effective Searches

You want your searches to be effective.

The more precise your search, the more likely you'll find what you're looking for.

Be Precise

For example, when searching for cats, you could be searching for

  • a particular breed of cats; or
  • Cats (the 2019 film); or
  • Cats (the 1981 stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber).

Try specifying “Cats the movie” or “Cats the musical” or “Persian cats” as search terms.

Avoid Malicious Searches

Sophos recommends these steps to avoid malicious search results:

Using Advanced Searches

Simple searches provide you with the quickest result, but advanced searches can provide more accurate results.

  • You can use quotation marks to specify phrases (e.g., “time travel”).
  • When you get more general results than you expected, you can narrow the search with advanced options or use a more specific search term (e.g., “Labrador retriever” instead of “dog”).
  • You can specify images, video, news and other categories for your search results.
  • Search results can be narrowed to a specific domain (e.g., Wikipedia.org) or a specific region or country.

Each search engine has information on how to refine your search.

Watch for Spelling Errors

Both the searcher and the site can misspell words, names and titles.

Variations can also be used by malicious sites to mislead you.

Search suggestions offer alternatives.

Organic or Artificial?

Organic search results are what people are really looking for when they enter specific search terms.

Google's reputation was built by providing accurate organic search results.

Sponsored results may be marked differently, but not always.

The link sponsors have paid the search engine for high positioning.

Overriding Organic Results

Sponsored results skew the search and seldom provides anything useful or trustworthy.

Most are designed to take you away from your intended search results.

Malware in Search Results

The first Google search result often leads to a virus. Why is only Google affected?

It's unacceptable that a handful of hackers can ever get Google to display malware in the top 10 results, much less the No. 1 result, on any type of search. Stop using Google.
Brian Livingston

Computer-related Searches

When searching for computer software and hardware information (especially drivers), choose only the original vendor where possible.

  • Choose the manufacturer's site (e.g., HP or nVidia) from within the search results rather than any third-party listings (e.g., driverupdates.com).
  • Ensure that you're seeing information specific to your computer's hardware and operating system or software version.

Windows Searches Not Private

Microsoft Windows 10 uses Bing for ALL searches, including those for your own files on your computer. This presents a serious privacy issue.

Fake Downloads

Unscrupulous software repositories have misleading “download” links that have nothing to do with the software you searched for. These point to malware or software containing PUPs.

Use Only Vendor-supplied Drivers

Unless drivers are provided by your computer's manufacturer and are designed for your specific hardware, they can corrupt your computer.

Update Software

Your computer's vendor may provide update software designed for your computer. This is the only safe option.

Avoid Driver Update Software

Generic “driver update” software is not recommended.

These can load potentially-unwanted programs (PUPs) or malware.

 

Privacy Issues

Search engines retain a log of your search terms combined with your IP address (your computer's address on the Internet) to gather useful and marketable information about you.

Many search engines track your browsing behavior and then use this data to manipulate your search results based on your past searches. For instance, one study found that airlines may increase prices if you keep searching for the same flight on a non-private web browser.
Ghostery

This information can be sold or used for purposes that have nothing to do with why you entered it in the first place.

Even if you're logged out, one engineer told me, there are 57 signals that Google looks at -- everything from what kind of computer you're on to what kind of browser you're using to where you're located -- that it uses to personally tailor your query results.

 

Think about it for a second: there is no standard Google anymore.
Eli Pariser

Search Privacy

I recommend a private search engine like Startpage, DuckDuckGo or Ghostery Glow because they don't record search requests.

Because search requests are not logged, there is no way a court order or hacking can reveal your search history.

Email Sniffing

The major search engines also offer free email services which could be mined for “targeted advertising” or affect search results.

This information is valuable and is changing the way the Internet works — and not necessarily for the better.

Misleading Links or Landing Pages

Some search engines provide “sponsored” results where the site own has paid for top billing. I recommend that you never click on these links.

Too often these links have nothing to do with your search criteria and are designed to take you away from legitimate vendors.

Many are scams or phishing attempts.

Filter Bubbles

Many search engines now alter search results based upon past search patterns (called personalized searches).

You may not get the results you're looking for.

One might think these searches would turn up a variety of perspectives, including at least a few compelling counterarguments.

 

One would be wrong.
Washingtonian

Social media sites use algorithms that make it harder to determine facts from fiction and have been flagged as causing inequality based upon racial or other bias.

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there's a dangerous unintended consequence:

 

We get trapped in a "filter bubble" and don't get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview.

 

[T]his will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy.
Eli Pariser

Scams and Identity Theft

Identity theft is easier than ever because people post too much information about themselves on social media and aren't careful in protecting their privacy online.

This site contains several resources related to scams and identity theft.

Search Engines Interlinked

Bruce Clay's Search Engine Relationship Chart® shows how the various search engines are interlinked (PDF version).

Default Search Engine

Choose a default search engine that doesn't sell your privacy as the price for search results.

While browsers come with a default search choice, most search engines will tell you how to make their site the default for your browser.

Microsoft Edge made this difficult by requiring you to load your chosen alternative search engine before it would allow you to add it. Microsoft Bing also cannot be removed.

Bing Used for Desktop Searches

Microsoft also sends all your computer's Windows 10 search requests to Bing.

This lightens the load on your computer but potentially provides a lot of information to Microsoft about what is on your computer and your interests.

Multi-Search Software

Copernic Agent is Windows commercial software that requires installation, but searches multiple search engines simultaneously.

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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Updated: July 29, 2022