This week the European Commission leveled a shocking $2.7 billion fine against (GOOG, GOOGL) in the body’s antitrust case against the search giant. Almost as surprising as that princely sum, though, is Google’s more than 90% market share of the search industry in the European Union.
We in the United States may pride ourselves on our rugged independence, but we are right behind Europeans in our Google habits. StatCounter’s numbers show we’ve given Google 87.7% of the total search market and 96.3% of the mobile-search market.
How to give Google a rest
But just because Google dominates the industry, it doesn’t mean you have to turn to it every time curiosity strikes. Not when Google’s influence and reach keep increasing, the odds of meaningful privacy rules in the U.S. keep dwindling and when you can save time and effort by going elsewhere in certain scenarios.
For basic lookups: Wikipedia. Admit it, half the time a Google query sends you to a Wikipedia entry anyway. If you’re looking for general info about a subject, why not cut out the middleman and go directly to this user-generated encyclopedia?
For any moderately embarrassing query: DuckDuckGo. If you’ve got a query that you don’t want in your Google search history, turning to this privacy-optimized site will do that and give you practice in using a non-Google search.
(For truly cringe-inducing searches, you should continue to borrow a co-worker’s computer when they’re not looking.)
For copying site addresses to share: Bing. If you only need to get a site’s address to paste into an email or a social-media post, the Microsoft (MSFT) search engine lets you right-click on results to copy that string of characters, while a right-click at Google yields a much longer Google URL that will redirect to the real thing.
For some transit searches: Bing Maps. Google Maps is generally fantastic, but it leaves out some transit services. Why? Google normally requires them to sign an indemnification clause holding it harmless for navigation errors before it will index their route data. Bing doesn’t, which can result in transit options like the local bus service in Fairfax County, Virginia — Washington’s most populous suburb — showing up on its maps but not Google’s.
Change your default search in one browser
If you appreciate feeling a little less dependent on one giant tech firm, you can go a step further by changing the default search in one browser that you use regularly.
If you appreciate Google’s features but want to move some of your searches out of its gaze, Bing is your best bet. For example, it’s the one major Google alternative that lets you constrain a query to a particular date range, not just the last week or month, or run a “reverse image search” to locate pictures that look like one you upload.
If you value privacy above all, DuckDuckGo might be your best alternative, as it doesn’t track your search history at all. Changing the default in one browser will offer a routine reminder that search doesn’t stop with Google.
To do that in Google’s Chrome browser from your computer, open the program’s settings page, scroll down to “Search engine” and choose an alternative. DuckDuckGo doesn’t appear in that list, but adding its free Chrome extension will fix that.
In Chrome for Android, tap the menu button, choose “Settings” and then “Search Engine.” DuckDuckGo isn’t there by default but should show up in that list if you’ve visited it lately.
In Apple’s (AAPL) Safari for MacOS, click in the address bar, clear the text in it, and click the magnifying-glass icon to change the default. In iOS, open the Settings app, scroll down its left-hand column and choose Safari, then tap “Search Engine” in the right-hand column.
In Microsoft’s Edge, go to the search site you want, open the settings menu, select “View Advanced Settings…” and then choose “Change search engine.”
Recognize what Google does well
Having written all that, I have to admit that I still use Google for most of my searches. It’s the default in my desktop and phone browsers (but not in Safari on my iPad), and that’s not just the product of my own laziness leading me to stick with default settings.
Google does, in fact, run an effective search engine: It couldn’t have grown from last place in 1999 if it didn’t.
Google also continues to offer some features that its competitors don’t. For instance, its mobile search highlights fast-loading pages written in the open-source Accelerated Mobile Pages format it helped develop (but doesn’t control). And seven years after adding bicycling directions, Google’s maps site has yet to see Bing and Apple match that navigation option.
And Google has been a leader in standing up to demands from governments, both America’s and others, for data about its users.
But while it may be Google’s world that we all just click in, we’d still be better off if we left room for other search options.
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