FT: “Would you pay for an ethical search engine?”

Don’t miss Jonathan Margoli’s short FT piece on whether consumer would pay for a private search engine or e-mail service. I know I would…

Some highlights:

I asked two of them if this liking was to their liking. The BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones appeared to “like” the New York Times. Is this so, I asked him? He conceded that he may have “liked” the newspaper at some point, and added that it gave him a “nagging sense that Facebook is too powerful and too damn clever”.

…my son, a grade-A geek who owns a successful technology company was gloomy about it. “It’s become a cess pool,” he grumbled. “It makes me want to close all my social media accounts, buy a dumb phone and opt out,” he said. Having every online action tracked and followed by companies’ helpful hints about stuff he might want to buy had pushed him close to going off-grid. I also remain irritated that I am being used as a shill by commercial interests. I might not mind if Amazon, Facebook or whoever is responsible, sent regular updates saying, “You have endorsed these products. Are you happy with that?”

It makes me wonder, given that the free lunch is over, if there is now a market for paid-for search and social media, guaranteed “clean”, private, unsullied by ads and does not collect data — utilities for whom we are the consumer, not the commodity. People pay willingly for other services already available, in the UK at least, free at point of use — health, education, even security. Why not search? Early social media — I am thinking of the forums I used to use on CompuServe — were paid for and seemingly free of tricks. Ethical search already exists. Two examples are DuckDuckGo, which serves ads relevant to your current search, but not personalised or based on tracking you. You can also turn all ads off. But the Philadelphia-based company’s model does require the bulk of its users not to turn off the ads, so it is much “cleaner” but not spotless.

Carlos Alvarenga

Founder and CEO at KatalystNet and Adjunct Professor in the Logistics, Business and Public Policy Department at the University of Maryland’s Robert E. Smith School of Business.

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