4 Jun 2014

Is Apple teaching Google a lesson in internet ethics?

Apple is teaming up with privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo to offer an alternative to internet giant Google.

Apple – who will make Bing the default web search option within iOS and OS X – in place of Google – will also offer users the chance to use the new search engine DuckDuckGo.

The US start-up provides a clean interface together with a no-tracking privacy policy. Google however, will still be available as a search option.

‘Right to be forgotten’

The teach giants came under pressure in May when a EU high court ruled that it must remove data from its search listings if asked by an individual. The EU’s court of justice (ECJ) upheld the complaint of a Spanish man who objected to the fact that Google searches of his name threw up links to a 1998 newspaper article about the repossession of his home.

The case has put the spotlight on the tension between free speech and online privacy. But the court ruled that under existing EU data protection laws, Google should be forced to remove data which compromises an individual’s “right to be forgotten”.

Matt Brian, News Editor at Engadget UK told Channel 4 News: “In the wake of the NSA revelations and security issues like Heartbleed, user privacy has been thrust back into the spotlight. A number of iOS 8 features Apple announced had new secure elements to them, and inclusion of DuckDuckGo builds on that. It gives users a bonafide alternative to Google, one that actively stands up for the rights of its users and doesn’t mine as much data from them in the process.

“Apple’s simply giving people a chance, one they may not have been aware of before.”

By adding search engine DuckDuckGo “Apple are demonstrating that they are taking privacy seriously”, MacUser Contributing Editor, Kenny Hemphill, told Channel 4 News.

Agence-France Presse (AFP) on Saturday revealed that Google had received 12,000 “right to be forgotten” requests from European citizens. In the requests, Google has been asked to remove search results which feature irrelevant personal data.

In May Google also introduced a new online form allowing people in Europe to request that information about them on the web is removed from search results.

A Google spokesman last month said: “To comply with the recent European court ruling, we’ve made a webform available for Europeans to request the removal of results from our search engine.

“The court’s ruling requires Google to make difficult judgments about an individual’s right to be forgotten and the public’s right to know.”

Apple’s ethics

Since taking the helm at Apple in 2011, Chief Executive Tim Cook has made notable changes to the company’s ethical policies. The 53-year-old has committed millions of dollars of Apple’s money to various good causes.

US author of Ethical Chic, Fran Hawthorne, told Channel 4 News: “Consumer pressure has definitely made online companies more sensitive to ethical issues like the environment, human rights, and privacy. In terms of privacy: Apple itself in 2011 had to back off from an effort in which iPhones and iPads were secretly collecting information on users’ locations. There are a lot of reasons, including the Google ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling, the furore over Google Earth, the NSA revelations, fear of hacking, and I think, consumers just getting fed up with ads.”

Founder of the Technologizer website Harry McCracken wrote in TIME magazine: “Unlike Google, Bing and Yahoo Search, [DuckDuckGo] doesn’t track your searches or mine your data for advertising or other purposes.. [however] it doesn’t rival Google when it comes to providing answers to questions right at the top of its results.

“Will I dump Google for DuckDuckGo? Nope. Google still has the best search engine going, and I’m not a Googlephobe on principle. It’s also worth noting that it’s possible to use Google search without leaving any tracks: Just use a private-browsing mode such as Chrome’s Incognito and don’t log into a Google Account.”

DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg told Channel 4 News: “Our privacy policy remains unchanged – we don’t collect or share personal information. It is a myth that you need to track people to make money in web search since most of the money is made off of commercial keywords like cars or shoes, which has nothing to do with individual people.”