Searching for Answers

Search engines return a set of results to a query. However, some search engines track their users, allowing the technology to customize the results sent to a particular user. Different users can/do get different results. That might seem nice at first glance, but there is problem with that approach from a technical standpoint of learning.

Remember, you are using a search engine to find something. Therefore, you want the truth, and nothing but the truth. By definition, customized results means you don’t really know if the results you are getting are the same as everyone else who uses the same tool for the same query. And over time, you couldn’t compare one query to other queries, and slowly compile a consistent map of your known universe.

Therefore a number of years ago, I switched to a search engine called DuckDuckGo. I did this because the service offers privacy without tracking. Early on, I occasionally had to supplement the results (I suspect the tech was powered by Bing) with a Google search to find something particularly esoteric.

However I liked this tradeoff because I knew that all my answers were treated the same, and therefore DuckDuckGo was getting me closer to the truth than an inconsistent input-output system.

Some people see data storage as an invasion of privacy. Others, like me, actually like the idea that I can someday look back on a lifetime of searches to re-examine and remember my life. However, I do want to control my data and control who gets it. Luckily, I can still do this on the browser side of the equation.

Lastly, if you are like me and believe that the world is generally good, private is not always better than open. For example, certain systems are like nets and they help the right fishermen find the right fish. By sharing openly, we make it easier to be found and emerge as a big fish in our chosen body of water.

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