Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Search Engines & Databases

Databases & Indexes | Verifying Information | Google's Monopoly
Effective Searches | Privacy

Search engines and databases help you find information.

Search Engines

Helping You to Find it on the Web

Search engines evolved to help you locate information found within the millions and millions of websites, blogs, social media and other Internet resources.

Because the currency of the Web is metadata, the collection of this data can affect your privacy as well as the accuracy of your search.

Startpage & DuckDuckGo preserve your privacy.

Startpage Recommended

Startpage.com offers you Web search results from Google in complete privacy!.

Startpage is the world's most private search engine, offering you best-in-class search results without fear of having to surrender your search information or other personal data.

Make StartPage Default

I recommend making Startpage.com your default search engine. The methods vary by browser. There is a Firefox addon.

Learning More

Learn more about Startpage on these YouTube videos:

DuckDuckGo: Alternative Recommendation

DuckDuckGo is a search engine driven by community and does not collect or share personal information.

Other Search Engines

Translation

Writing Tools

Return to top

Databases & Indexes

Databases

Phone Numbers

When looking for information you can use one of the following listings:

You might find it easier to simply search for the phone number in your favourite search engine.

Tracing Unwanted Calls

Unwanted calls have become a common nuisance.

Scam Calls

Phone calls from a “technical support” person saying that you have a problem with your computer are all SCAMS. There are many varieties of scams, all designed to steal from you. Just hang up. More…

It is better to hang up than risk having your identity stolen.

People Search

Watch for fees when using these services.

The rise in concerns about privacy are having an effect on what is available for free.

Postal/Zip Codes

Return to top

Verifying Information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people's health, and hurts democracy. — FullFact.org

You want to ensure that the information you've searched for is accurate and current.

Critical thinking shouldn't just be a synonym for doubting or debunking something, and the point of research isn't simply to poke holes in a story. It's to understand the story better, or — if somebody is telling that story maliciously or incompetently — to get deep enough to find the truth. — Adi Robertson

History has always been subject to the perspective of those writing it.

There's a tendency when you read about history to see it as the capital-T Truth. History books we read in school tend to portray themselves as an objective account of past events. They are anything but. — Taylor Pearson

Fact Checkers

These sites can help you determine if what you're reading is true or not.

Sharing Information

Learn to recognize misleading information before you share it and put your own reputation on the line.

The best defense is to ask critical questions, so you can learn to recognize the difference between a harmless parody and a hoax, between content that's intentionally misleading or just poorly researched, and to spot red flags and unreliable sources.
Data Detox

Health Information

It is particularly important that you verify information before spreading it when it comes to health information. See CheckThenShare.ca for details.

Help stop the spread of misinformation! Check first. Share after.

 

Fake News, Urban Legends & Hoaxes

Social media (and email) too often promotes false information that disrupts our perception of what is truth.

A false story reaches 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does. False stories outperform the truth on every subject — including business, terrorism and war, science and technology, and entertainment — fake news about politics regularly does best. — Soroush Vosoughi

Features like the following should make you suspicious:

  • Hoaxes use emotional rather than factual approaches to lure you in.
  • Hoaxes depend on our concern for our computers (such as "virus" warnings) or greed (chain letters that pay big dividends) or compassion for others (such as saving a sick child).
  • Many cite "authority" sources that have nothing to do with the post.

Check reliable authority sites to see if the content of the post or email is accurate.

Fake News

Fake news is publication of news that is false or misleading. Posts play on our emotions or build upon distrust. People forward it out of ignorance or with malicious intent.

Some countries are using fake news to attack the credibility of our leaders and to destabilize democracies.

Scams and Identity Theft

Identity theft is easier than ever because people post too much information about themselves on social media and aren't careful in protecting their privacy online.

This site contains several resources related to scams and identity theft.

Hoaxes, Myths and Urban Legends

  • Hoax-Slayer debunks email and Internet hoaxes, bogus warnings and misleading articles.
  • Snopes.com has an extensive categorized listing of urban legends and rumours.
  • TruthOrFiction.com lists rumours, inspirational stories, virus warnings, humorous tales, pleas for help, urban legends, prayer requests and calls to action with details about their truth or fiction.

Misleading Links or Landing Pages

Some search engines provide “sponsored” results where the site own has paid for top billing. I recommend that you never click on these links.

Too often these links have nothing to do with your search criteria and are designed to take you away from legitimate vendors. Many are scams or phishing attempts.

Filter Bubbles

Many search engines now alter search results based upon past search patterns (called personalized searches) and you may not get the results you're looking for.

One might think these searches would turn up a variety of perspectives, including at least a few compelling counterarguments. One would be wrong. — quoted in the Washington Post

Social media sites use algorithms that make it harder to determine facts from fiction and have been flagged as causing inequality based upon racial or other bias.

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there's a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a "filter bubble" and don't get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. [T]his will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy. — Eli Pariser

Finding Authoritative Sources

At one time information was published only by authoritative organizations such as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

While you might question the bias of such organizations, it did make decisions about trusting the information less complicated.

The Internet has made it easy for anyone to publish. Self-managed websites, blogs and social media are everywhere.

Wikipedia has thousands of people vetting information. Questionable material is clearly flagged for review.

Authority Sites Usurped

Many former “authority” sites have become nothing more than online infomercials or have generated fake news to promote their interests.

This puts the onus on the reader to verify and qualify both the content and the “publisher” of such information.

Determine Ownership

Consumer reports and product comparisons are biased unless carried out by truly independent researchers. Site advertising can bias outcomes.

One way to verify bias is to seek out the ownership of the site.

  • I've discovered that many of the once-decent medical information portals have been purchased or sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and the available information has changed.
  • Many consumer alert sites, especially related to medical devices, are merely fronts for U.S. law firms looking for clients.
  • Some sites promote the interests of cults like Scientology yet don't mention their ownership.

This is sometimes difficult, because the site owner wants to attract links from other sites. It is often only when you spend time investigating the site that the real sponsor and purpose is revealed.

Compare Sources

Another method is to compare various sources to see how they agree or disagree on the main points.

  • Widespread agreement doesn't necessarily prove validity.
  • Conspiracy theories aside, common educational backgrounds and sources of information can lead different researchers to come to the same conclusions, even incorrect ones.
  • Examine the information you find with some skepticism. Do your conclusions match what you've read?

Return to top

Google's Market Dominance

It is dangerous to trust only one company to tell us what is true and what isn't. The trend to give us what they think we want to see created the current lack of control for fake news.

Google is not only the biggest search engine in the world, but along with Youtube (the second biggest search engine in the world) it also has the largest video platform, with Chrome the biggest browser, with Gmail the most widely used e-mail provider, and with Android the biggest operating system for mobile devices.

 

It collects data about users' every click, tap, query, and movement from all of those sources and more. — Von Mathias Döpfner

When a company dominates a market, what they tell you tends to become “the truth” even if their opinion isn't shared by everyone.

[I]f one company is 90% of the searches in our country, they kind of represent truth to our country. — IRL

Google Never Forgets

Google makes their money by exploiting information you provide.

[W]hen you search on Google, they keep your search history forever. That means they know every search you've ever done on Google. That alone is pretty scary, but it's just the shallow end of the very deep pool of data that they try to collect on people. — DuckDuckGo

Google NEVER forgets.

Google is a Marketing Company

Many think of Google as a search engine. They are the world's largest marketing company.

Google controls about 62% of mobile browsers, 69% of desktop browsers, and the operating systems on 71% of mobile devices in the world.

 

92% of internet searches go through Google and 73% of American adults use YouTube.

 

Google runs code on approximately 85% of sites on the Web and inside as many as 94% of apps in the Play store.

 

It collects data about users' every click, tap, query, and movement from all of those sources and more. — EFF

Google has become so powerful that it now threatens the digital economy.

Safer Alternatives

I recommend using StartPage because the search is passed onto Google without your IP address and other private information. You still need to take care in how you word your search terms.

 

Effective Searches

You want your searches to be effective.

The more precise your search, the more likely you'll find what you're looking for.

Be Precise

For example, when searching for cats, you could be searching for

  • a particular breed of cats; or
  • Cats (the 2019 film); or
  • Cats (the 1981 stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber).

Try specifying “Cats the movie” or “Cats the musical” or “Persian cats” as search terms.

Using Advanced Searches

Simple searches provide you with the quickest result, but advanced searches can provide more accurate results.

  • You can use quotation marks to specify phrases (e.g. “time travel”).
  • When you get more general results than you expected, you can narrow the search with advanced options or use a more specific search term (e.g. “Labrador retriever” instead of “dog”).
  • You can specify images, video, news and other categories for your search results.
  • Search results can be narrowed to a specific domain (e.g. Wikipedia.org) or a specific region or country.

Each search engine has information on how to refine your search.

Watch for Spelling Errors

Both the searcher and the site can misspell words, names and titles.

Variations can also be used by malicious sites to mislead you.

Search suggestions offer alternatives.

Organic or Artificial?

Organic search results are what people are really looking for when they enter specific search terms.

Google's reputation was built by providing accurate organic search results.

The link sponsors have paid the search engine for high positioning.

Sponsored results may be marked differently, but not always.

Overriding Organic Results

Sponsored results skew the search and seldom provides anything useful or trustworthy.

In some cases, the results are real companies that have been out-SEO'd by their competition.

It is more likely the sponsored link was designed to take you away from your intended search results.

Computer-related Searches

When searching for computer software and hardware information (especially drivers), choose only the original vendor where possible.

  • Choose the manufacturer's site (e.g. HP or nVidia) from within the search results rather than any third-party listings (e.g. driverupdates.com).
  • Ensure that you're seeing information specific to your computer's hardware and operating system or software version.

Fake Downloads

Unscrupulous software repositories have misleading “download” links that have nothing to do with the software you searched for. These point to malware or software containing PUPs.

Use Only Vendor Drivers

Unless drivers are provided by your computer's manufacturer and are designed for your specific hardware, they can corrupt your computer.

Update Software

Your computer's vendor may provide update software designed for your computer. This is the only safe option.

Avoid Driver Update Software

Generic “driver update” software is not recommended.

These can load potentially-unwanted programs (PUPs) or malware.

Return to top

Privacy Issues

Search engines retain a log of your search terms combined with your IP address (your computer's address on the Internet) to gather useful and marketable information about you.

This information can be sold or used for purposes that have nothing to do with why you entered it in the first place.

Even if you're logged out, one engineer told me, there are 57 signals that Google looks at -- everything from what kind of computer you're on to what kind of browser you're using to where you're located -- that it uses to personally tailor your query results.

 

Think about it for a second: there is no standard Google anymore. — Eli Pariser

Search Privacy

I recommend a search service like StartPage or DuckDuckGo because they don't record search requests.

Deleting Google Search Data

Google Search now states: “Browse or delete your Search activity data.”

Email Sniffing

The major search engines also offer free email services which could be mined for “targeted advertising” or affect search results.

This information is valuable and is changing the way the Internet works — and not necessarily for the better.

Search Engines Interlinked

Bruce Clay's Search Engine Relationship Chart® shows how the various search engines are interlinked (PDF version).

Default Search Engine

Choose a default search engine that doesn't sell your privacy as the price for search results.

While browsers come with a default search choice, most search engines will tell you how to make their site the default for your browser.

Microsoft Edge made this difficult by requiring you to load your chosen alternative search engine before it would allow you to add it. Microsoft Bing cannot be removed.

Bing Used for Desktop Searches

Microsoft also sends all your computer's Windows 10 search requests to Bing. This lightens the load on your computer (Software as a Service) but potentially provides a lot of information to Microsoft about what is on your computer and what your interests are.

Multi-Search Software

Copernic Agent is Windows commercial software that requires installation, but searches multiple search engines simultaneously.

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.


If these pages helped you,
buy me a coffee!


 

Return to top
RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/search.html
Updated: April 1, 2021