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A call for freedom of information

WHY WE NEED ALTERNATIVES TO THE GATEKEEPERS OF THE INTERNET

What is the weather going to be like today? How do I make fluffy pancakes? What are the charges in the latest trial against a certain political leader and what does the evidence suggest? Those three questions seem to have no connection to each other whatsoever. Yet what I want to show here has less to do with the questions per se, and more with the answers to them and all of the other billions of questions people ask every day. Depending on the question we are asking, the kind of answers we will find can range from being fairly irrelevant to our lives to being decisive factors in the lives we live, the opinions we form, and the decisions we make.

Now let us ask a very important question: how do we actually get the answers to all of our questions? In the old days, we would’ve probably looked at the clouds, asked our grandmothers and read a newspaper. And while we might still do that, in a world shaped by the omnipresence of Wi-Fi, laptops and cell phones, chances are that we instead turn to the almighty and omniscient deity that is: the Internet.

There is a crucial step between looking for and receiving information via the Internet, that is often overlooked. So, let’s reflect on how we get the answers to our questions, that the Internet delivers us ever so quickly, reliably, and constantly. The one thing standing between our information inquiry and the vast knowledge vault of the World Wide Web, are the search engines. They are the gatekeepers of information on the Internet.

Profit bias

If you’re looking for a new dentist or coffee shop near you, you’ll probably open your browser and start typing in those key words in the search bar. But have you ever thought about which search engine you are using and why? Most people simply type something in their browser’s default search bar without giving it much thought. And how far down the list of search results do you look? The pages one, two, maybe even three — if you’re really looking for something special. And how often do you look further than the fifth search results page? My guess is: never.

Furthermore, everyone who has talked to small, local, or first-time business owners knows that these search rankings can really make or break a small company, start-up or website. People who have just started out with their business often don’t have the necessary funds to get ranked on the first page of Google and in this digital age, this can turn out to be the cause of death for new or small businesses.

Because of the intrinsic financial model those search industry giants are based on, search results and their ranking is not solely based on relevance and providing the best and most matching results, but also on who paid how much to get there. Many people have probably figured out by now that they have to ignore Google’s first few “search results”, because they are not actual search results but paid advertisements fishing for customers instead. However, I doubt that most people have ever asked themselves:

“Where do Google etc. get their answers from and how do they choose?”

First off, Google (like most common search engines) is a company. The big search engine providers are run like a business, which means their goal is to make and maximize their own profit. And they are not doing a bad job at it either: Google’s “revenue grew 26% year-over-year to $31.16 billion in the first quarter this year.”. Since users don’t pay to search, the way search engines generate revenue is mostly through advertisements and providing data. One could argue, that their services aren’t in fact “free” but rather the fee is implicit and therefore invisible to the users: it is comprised of all of their personal information and usage data, their attention, their clicks, and views and what they buy.

Hence, when it comes to the search results provided for our daily queries, they are necessarily biased, based on the intrinsic principles of business logic. In other words, our daily search results suffer from “profit bias”. Google, Baidu, Bing, etc. are not “evil” per se. But their priorities as businesses are more than clear — profit always trumps people:

Customers aren’t king, currency is.

If a system is supposed to be sustainable it needs to generate the necessary revenue. For this reason, the founders of the Presearch project decided on a special utility token model for their search ecosystem that caters to the two most important factors for a successful project alike: sustainable revenue streams and user incentivization. By rewarding Presearch users with $PRE tokens for their daily searches, a strong incentive was created for people to prefer using Presearch over other options, because on top of regaining more privacy, users also receive their fair share of the ad revenue generated by the platform. This, in turn, creates a solid and large user base (currently already over 150,00 active beta users), which makes Presearch an attractive partner for businesses and advertisers.

Monopoly bias

According to this article (all services combined), Google holds more than 90% of the total market share of Internet searches. This means that our access to information via the Internet is highly monopolized. Monopoly means power. And whenever too few people have too much power, it will be abused sooner or later. Could you imagine living in a world where there’s only one single library, and their CEO can decide which books to burn and which ones to keep, depending on his managing strategies — sounds dystopian, doesn’t it? But it isn’t too farfetched from the truth. The threat of digital content censorship and strategic information manipulation is the Fahrenheit 451 scenario of our day.

This “monopoly bias” is due to the centralized way single corporations dominate specific markets, like the search engine sector. It can endanger democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of information, open markets and other basic values and human rights modern societies fought so hard to attain. Ask anyone who lives under an oppressive regime and they will assure you how crucial these ideals are and that we should protect them to the very best of our abilities.

After all, besides the paid advertisements bias, this is a matter of principle:
No single entity should be able to watch over, censor or manipulate the information we can access in a centralized and monopolized way.
Every question we seek an answer for is like a miniature quest for truth. We want our results to be as veritable, accurate and relevant to us as possible and we certainly do not want other people, governments, or companies to dictate what we see and don’t see, what we can and can’t listen to and what we should and shouldn’t buy.

Creating an open, transparent, community-based, and decentralized search engine is a means of empowering the people by offering more choices and freedom to everyone around the world. This is the idea behind Presearch — the people’s search engine.

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