Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Search Engines & Databases

| Phone/Postal Code/Email | Effective Searches | Privacy Issues

Search engines and databases help you find information.

Search Engines

Helping You to Find it on the Web

There are millions and millions of websites on the Internet. Search engines evolved to help you locate the information you want.

However, because the currency of the Web is metadata this collection can not only affect your privacy but also the accuracy of your search.

StartPage Recommended

Startpage

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

Scroll down the StartPage search page (above) and look for “Make Startpage.com your default search engine.” The methods can vary by browser.

DuckDuckGo: Alternative Recommendation

DuckDuckGo is a search engine driven by community and does not collect or share personal information.

Other Search Engines

Avoid the “Sponsored” Results

Avoid choosing the “sponsored” results and stick to the offerings from the original vendor where possible, especially for software and hardware drivers downloads. The links have paid for high positioning and seldom provide anything useful or trustworthy.

Ensure Computer-related Search Results are Relevant

Depending upon your search, you should choose the most relevant search result, especially when dealing with hardware or software downloads.

  • Choose the manufacturer's site (HP, for example) 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.
  • Avoid sites that want to download software to check for updated drivers and software unless the are provided by your computer's manufacturer and are specific to your computer. Many generic driver update programs load potentially-unwanted programs (PUPs) or malware.

Watch for Misleading Links on Landing Pages

Once you've chosen a search result, watch for misleading or confusing “download” links, particularly on freeware sites. These sites try to make money with paid links that often contain malware or PUPs.

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Other Information Indexes

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

Do Not Call List

You can register your phone numbers with Canada's National Do Not Call List.

Consumers should understand that registering on the National DNCL will reduce but not eliminate all telemarketing calls. There are certain kinds of telemarketing calls that are exempted from the National DNCL Rules.

The exemptions include telemarketing calls made by, or on behalf of:

  • Canadian registered charities;
  • Political parties, riding associations and candidates;
  • Persons or entities collecting information for a survey; and
  • Newspapers of general circulation for the purpose of soliciting subscriptions.

Telemarketing calls from organizations with whom you have an existing business relationship are also exempt. Details…

Beware of Fraud

Not all telemarketing calls are what they appear to be. A great number of “marketing” calls are fraudulent. NEVER volunteer personal or financial information when receiving unsolicited calls.

If asked for a question that you'd normally respond “yes” to (e.g. “Can you hear me?”) by an unknown caller, refuse to respond. This response can be recorded and used on other sites that record your assent as confirmation of purchases or other agreements.

Caller ID can be faked and often local numbers are used to appear more genuine. While there are signs that indicate fraud, it is better to simply hang up rather than have your identity stolen.

People Search

These sites have some free information searches and some that you need to pay for. The rise in concerns about privacy are having an effect on what is available for free.

  • Zaba Search free people search. Find People in the USA.
  • WhoWhere people search and yellow pages search engine.

Postal/Zip Codes

Miscellaneous Information Sites

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Effective Searches

Times Have Changed

At one time information was published only by authoritative organizations. While one might question the bias of such organizations, it did effectively make trusting the information easier.

Today, anyone can publish information. Self-managed websites, blogs and social media are everywhere. Many “authority” sites have become nothing more than online infomercials or have generated “fake” news to promote their interests. Self-publishing has removed the vetting process for many printed publications.

Verifying Information

This puts the onus on the reader to verify and qualify both the content and the “publisher” of such information.

Determine Ownership

One way to do this is to seek out the ownership of the site to determine biased self-interest.

  • I've discovered that many of the decent medical information portals have been purchased or sponsored by a pharmaceutical company and the information available has changed.
  • Many consumer alert sites, especially related to medical devices, are merely fronts for U.S. law firms looking for clients.
  • Some sites promote the interests of cults like Scientology yet don't mention their ownership.
  • Consumer reports and product comparisons are biased unless carried out by truly independent researchers and advertising can affect outcomes.

Compare Sources

Another method is to compare various sources to see how they agree or disagree on the main points.

  • Widespread agreement doesn't necessarily mean that the information is true.
  • Conspiracy theories aside, common educational backgrounds and sources of information can lead different researchers to come to the same conclusions, even incorrect ones.
  • Think things through for yourself using the information you find. Do your conclusions match what you've read?

Unfortunately, today's news media, social media sites and search engines are filtering results based upon what they perceive as your bias from previous searches or your “friends” list.

One might think these searches would turn up a variety of perspectives, including at least a few compelling counterarguments. One would be wrong. — quoted in the Washington Post

Filter Bubbles

Many search engines now alter search results based upon past search patterns (called personalized searches) and you may not get the results you're looking for.

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. Eli Pariser argues powerfully that this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy. — Beware Online Filter Bubbles Eli Pariser | TED2011

Market Dominance

Why we fear Google reveals how powerful Google has become and that it now threatens the digital economy. Google's share of the search market is now pegged at over 90%, Chrome at over 63%.

[I]f one company is 90% of the searches in our country, they kind of represent truth to our country. — IRL

Google established itself as dominant by providing search results that were in the best interest of the person doing the search. Google now uses its dominance to shape the market. Changes in search algorithms have cost many companies almost their entire digital revenue — changes that may have been ignored with Googles' own products.

There is still much discussion about how Google, Facebook, Twitter and other online companies could have affected the 2016 US presidential election results as well as those elsewhere.

Search Engines Interlinked

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

Safer Alternatives

Using a search engine like StartPage can help prevent this because the search is passed onto Google without your IP address and other private information.

Using Advanced Searches

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

  • Be aware that both you and the sites listing the information can misspell words, names and titles. Search engines now often ask you if you meant to search for a close but slightly different term (e.g. the correct spelling).
  • 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.

Check each search engine for the information on how to refine your search.

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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.

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

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. — Beware Online Filter Bubbles Eli Pariser | TED2011

Search Privacy

This is why I recommend a search service like StartPage or DuckToGo which don't record search requests.

Deleting Google Search Data

Google Search now states: “Browse or delete your Search activity data.” What you need to know.

Email Sniffing

The major search engines also offer free email services which are mined for “targeted advertising” (the data could also be used to affect search results).

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

Toolbars

Toolbars, while convenient, track what you search for.

Toolbars are not as common as they once were, partly because browsers have incorporated search functions within the address bar (the area at the top where the site address appears).

Most search engines will tell you how to make their site the default for your browser.

Multi-Search Software

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

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/search.html
Updated: November 2, 2019