If you believe that the search results from any search engine, let alone Google, are neutral and do not reflect the search engine’s owners interests and biases, then you are very niave or entirely delusional. To prosper in the ‘information age’ one must be skeptical, open minded, and use many search engines.
For example, Google monitors what we’re searching on and decides what search results are best for its own interests. In the USA, Google was the second-largest contributor to Obama, but Google protests that it doesn’t manipulate search results in his, and the democrat’s favour.
Some very enlightening information is now comming to light about how a small change the search algorithm may dramatically change the outcome of an election. I strongly suggest that you read Big Data Meets Popular Vote in today’s National Post.
Disconnect Search is a specialized VPN that lets you search privately using Google, Bing, and Yahoo search engines. They say they don’t log searches, IP addresses, or any other personal info.
Using Disconnect search, your ISP shouldn’t see your search terms as they don’t have access to your searches. Normally, when you click a result link, the site you go to may see your search terms, but Disconnect should prevent this. Search engines save your searches, which can be connected to your real name or IP address. Disconnect should anonymize your searches.
Are you uncomfortable with how much Google knows about you? Google makes a lot of money mining your search history. A Boston-based privacy company Abine has a solution to this problem.
The Blur Private Search service prevents Google from linking a search query to you. Search results appear normally, except your search, IP address, and the links that you click on can’t be identified or connected to you by the search engine. It is easy to set-up and use—you don’t have to sign-up using Gmail or other service. Create an account using a throw-away email address.
Nothing is perfect. Private Search only works with Firefox because Chrome tells Google about everything you do all by itself. It won’t protect you from other search engines like Bing or Yahoo.
Google now lets you export your web search history. However, you must be signed into you Google account. Just click on the little cog in the top-right of your screen in your Google Account history, and hit “Download.”
This is a lot simpler than the work-arounds that you probably used in the past.
The European Union “right to be forgotten” law that allows individuals to demand the removal of links from Google’s EU search sites is starting to come into play.
The EU “Right to be Forgotten” is clearly a form of censorship in the 28 member nations and 4 other European countries that encompasses over 500 million people. Google has 90% of the search engine market there.
Demanding the removal of an indexed item only renews interest in the story. As the law only applies to Google and not the pages themselves or other search engines, traffic to the articles in question increases thanks to journalists calling attention to them once they receive notification that the article was removed from the EU sites. This is known as The Streisand Effect.
European Google search results for any name display the disclaimer that, “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe,” even if nobody requested the removal of anything.
Of course, people will soon tire of writing about the removed articles and people will stop demanding the removal of indexed items.
Certainly, a free speech enthusiasts will start to collate all the missing search results and make them available. This has already started with Hidden From Google. This site archives articles that Google must remove from European Union search results. I’m certain a Twitter account like @gdnvanished will also appear to provide similar content.
The easiest way to circumvent this censorship is to search using the Google.com site instead of the local EU search sites—or better yet, use other search engines like DuckDuckGo, Yandex, and blekko.
I know you still want to use Google without giving away all your personal data. To accomplish this while using Firefox, use the Searchonymous extension. With this, you can stay signed into your Google account while searching and Google won’t know it’s you doing the search. It also gets rid of most of the annoying ads.
If you use Chrome or a browser like Comodo Dragon that is based on Chrome, then you might try Search Disconnect which purports to do the same thing.
A handy cheat sheet for searching DuckDuckGo can be found at Techglimpse. Click on the image to see the larger version.
Wolfram Alpha is an interesting answer engine. It answers questions by computing the answer from curated, structured data, rather than providing a list of web pages that contain the search words like normal search engines.
Investigations often hinge on local conditions such as weather. When I need to estimate the weather conditions or compare someone’s description of the weather to actual conditions, I type in a search term like “what was the weather in toronto on july 1, 1967”. Sometimes, Wolfram Alpha has no data from which to formulate an answer such as happened with this search. If you substitute the years 1950 or 2000 you get answers, but not for 1967.
Of course I verify what I get from Wolfram Alpha through official sources.
Images that appear on a web site offer many insights into the people who created the site. They tell you if they have the money to buy copyrighted content, or that they took the time to create their own imagery to get across their message. The imagery may also tell you that they don’t respect copyright law. The use of the same image on several sites may indicate a relationship between the sites that use the image.
Bing now offers an image search facility that allows you to paste the specific image URL into the search box at Bing.com/images. If you have a picture that you want to match, then you may upload it directly to Bing.com/Images and Bing will search for matches. To match an image, submit a URL, or upload an image, just click on image match.
When you come across an image on a site you find in the Bing Web results, go to Bing Image search and clear the search box. That will make the Image Match link appear next to the search box. When using this, the best approach is to have Bing Web open in one tab and Bing Images in another. As you click on Web results, they will open in a new tab between Bing Web and Bing Images. To isolate the images you wish to search, in Firefox, right click the image and click on view image. This will take you to the image itself and its unique URL. This makes it easier for Bing to isolate the image it is trying to match.
Your search and browsing behaviour allows Google to personalise your search results. To escape this filtering of your results use a private browser window called incognito as it is called in Chrome. Google will then ignore tracking and search cookies to stop personalising your results. To get a private browser or incognito window use the following key combinations:
- Chrome – Ctrl+Shift+N
- FireFox – Ctrl+Shift+P
- Internet Explorer – Ctrl+Shift+P
I have found that this approach doesn’t work with Bing.
Metasearch for the Big Guys
Dogpile returns results from Google, Yahoo!, and Yandex. The Russian engine, Yandex, is the fourth largest search engine in the world and Yahoo! is really the Bing search engine database.
Dogpile is only good for short and simple search statements, however, it is a good for a quick look at what you are likely to get from the largest search engines.
Copernic has stopped selling its professional version metasearch tool and discontinued all support for both the professional and free personal versions of Copernic Agent. It only searches five of the 15 search engines it purports to search (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Dogpile, and Open Directory Project).
Copernic is Windows only.
iMetaseach is a possible replacement for Copernic. It is now in version 5.03, so it isn’t a new kid on the block. The paid version searches Google and purports to search 11 other search engines.
The program groups search results by concept; click a group that interest you and the search results will be revised. This is an effective method to refine search results and get the most relevant results. It’s very effective for ambiguous search terms.
Unfortunately, iMetasearch has a steep learning curve, but if you frequently conduct Investigative Internet Research it is worth the effort to learn how to use this advanced web search tool.
iMetasearch is Windows only.
The DuckDuckGo (DDG) search engine aggregates content to provide search results while offering significant privacy features. My favorite search shortcut in DDG is its version of the Google site: command. Place an exclamation point before the site you want to search–for example, “private investigator” !facebook. The exclamation point directs the search to a specific site. In this case, you will have to login to your Facebook account to see the results.