Alternative Search Engines: Does Independence Remain Just an Illusion?

DuckDuckGo, Ecosia or Startpage are often mentioned as "alternative search engines".  In fact, they are dependent on the search index and ad network of Google or Microsoft Bing. Cliqz is working on a truly independent search engine.

Björn GreifEditor

With its search engine, Google controls over 92 percent of the global search market. In most European countries, its market share is even higher. The next largest search engine is Microsoft’s Bing with a worldwide share of around 3% (according to Statcounter, as of January 2020).

This means that the quasi-monopolist from Silicon Valley and another US giant control which media, content, facts or opinions we get to see, and which parties, organizations, politicians and activists get a voice. It should be obvious to everyone that this isn’t healthy for a democracy.

In Europe, Google and Microsoft Bing together have a market share of more than 96% (Screenshot: Statcounter).
In Europe, Google and Microsoft Bing together have a market share of more than 96% (Screenshot: Statcounter).

In addition, Google and Microsoft collect vast amounts of data, monopolize this treasure as well and thus prevent innovation. Because of its market power, Google can dictate the prices of search engine advertising at will (which, of course, consumers pay for in the end).

The trillion-dollar company has unprecedented power over all digital industries and no scruples about exploiting it. Competitors are systematically kept small, as the example of the recommendation portal Yelp shows. For years, Yelp has been fighting against Google that favors its own services in the search results and thus eliminates any competition.

Antitrust Fines Alone Are Ineffective

Google already had to pay billions in EU antitrust fines due to anti-competitive behavior and was forced to change its business practices. But with its army of lawyers, the monopolist systematically delays the proceedings. This always gives Google enough time to create facts and capture more market share.

Some may argue: “But there are enough alternatives like Bing, Yahoo, Ecosia or DuckDuckGo – so what’s the problem?” The answer may surprise them.

Google and Bing in New Packaging

The supposed diversity of alternative search engines turns out to be an illusion on closer consideration. The main problem is that most “alternatives” don’t have their own search index but use Google’s or Microsoft Bing’s and simply add their own user interface.

This is somewhat like if virtually all TV stations show the same program and only exchange the displayed station logo.

Dependence on Technology and Business Model

Many of the apparently independent search engines are in fact dependent on the technology of the two industry giants Google and Microsoft. The same often applies to the business model: most search engines not only adopt the results of Google or Bing, but also the ads from their advertising networks to earn money. The sham alternatives don’t change anything about the overwhelming market dominance of the big tech companies.

Ecosia, Qwant and Yahoo, for example, all rely on Bing. DuckDuckGo shows a result mix from different sources, above all from Bing, Yandex and Yahoo. And the search engine OneSearch recently launched by Verizon in the US is also “powered by Bing.” Others like Startpage get their results and ads directly from Google.

Most search engines are dependent on Google or Bing.
Most search engines are dependent on Google or Bing.

All these search engines without an own index are actually meta search engines. This doesn’t automatically make them bad. For example, Ecosia and DuckDuckGo certainly have good intentions. But without their own search index they aren’t independent and deliver the same results as all other Bing-based search engines. By the way, this also applies to GMX and info.com, who – together with DuckDuckGo – bid the most in an auction to appear next to Google on the Android choice screen in Germany.

Cliqz Wants to Create a Real Alternative

The sad truth is: Internet users in the western world today only have the choice between Google and Bing. The few independent search engines like Mojeek (UK) or Seznam (Czech Republic) are too local or small to be a competitive alternative.

There is no real competition in the search engine market that would be important for a free web. With a market share of over 90 percent, Google almost everywhere is the gatekeeper to the web and has a huge influence on the opinion-forming process. The pitiful rest is shared by Bing and Bing-powered search engines.

Cliqz wants to change this by creating a real alternative. For five years now, we have been working with around 100 employees in Munich to build an independent search engine. We started with our quick-search feature within the Cliqz Browser and now are working on a traditional search engine approach with a results page. Of course, we also have our own advertising network based on fairness towards consumers as well as advertisers.

Cliqz Search - Independent and Private

Our search engine with its own index is completely independent. We don’t use anyone’s technology nor anyone’s business model but have chosen the more difficult path of developing all the required technology from scratch.

Cliqz Search is built end-to-end from collecting, crawling, and analyzing data up to actually showing results all this with privacy by design. This ensures that our users’ privacy is always protected.

Cliqz Search is still work in progress and is getting better every day. You can already try it in our browser or at beta.cliqz.com.

We appreciate your feedback!