Open access to online resources is a key factor for freedom of information and democracy. The #FreeWebSearch Day on 29 September draws attention to this issue worldwide and bundles participatory actions.
In the future, 29 September will stand for a free and transparent internet search: The Open Search Foundation (OSF) from Starnberg has set up a website for this international action day and, together with partners, invites people to advocate a free web. “#FreeWebSearch Day unites all people wishing to stand up for free web search. Its main target is to support an open and transparent internet search. The action day will highlight the strong influence internet search has on all of us – and why its freedom and transparency are key to our democracies”, says Christine Plote, co-founder and member of the board of the OSF. “For events around 29 September 2023, we are looking for fellow campaigners from companies, schools, universities and civil society organisations. Therefore, we are collecting events, talks and actions across Europe around open internet search.”
Intransparent information offers
The background of the international #FreeWebSearch Day on 29 September is the overwhelming power of search engine providers, such as Alphabet, Microsoft, Yandex or Baidu. Worldwide, about 90 percent of internet users trust Google when they search the internet for information they need for work, education, lifestyle, hobbies or purchases (Quelle: gs.Statcounter.com). However, these corporations do not disclose their search indexes or algorithms. They keep in the dark, firstly, how their results come about and, secondly, what criteria are used to list them. In fact, a few profit-oriented companies determine what information we build upon. Through this lack of transparency, they narrow down the view of news or content on the web and thus shape public opinion.
Establish web search as a subject
The major search engines also hide, what personal data they collect from users when they search and retrieve results. It is also not clear how they store, use or market this personal data. What is clear, however, is that this is done for advertising purposes, because advertising is the search companies’ main business model. Pointing out these connections, drawing attention to the consequences of the existing lack of transparency in web search and, above all, highlighting alternative solutions are additional goals of the international #FreeWebSearch Day on 29 September.
“Many internet users still think that search results at the top of their results list are good, correct and trustworthy, even though they cannot know the criteria of the rankings,” Christine Plote points out. However, freedom of information is the most important foundation of a functioning democracy. There is still a huge lack of knowledge on how search results come about and are ranked or how a search engine will know, what is in a picture. “Surprisingly, we seem to accept a high degree of digital illiteracy in this respect. Yet, it is high time that search and the evaluation of search results become part of the curricula of schools or universities, training and further education”, the co-founder of the OSF claims. In addition, schools and companies should give higher priority to hot topics, such as the impacts on online search by artificial intelligence, the new text generators or Large Language Models (LLMs).
Actions, lectures, hackathons: ideas wanted
These could already be the first topics for the #FreeWebSearch Day 2023 on 29 September. On this day, contributions from as many different groups as possible are welcome: Companies, schools, universities, other educational institutions, museums or associations can contribute to open online search with (online) lectures, discussions, participatory activities or projects. IT specialists or programmers can contribute with technical know-how and organise hackathons to work on an open web index to catalogue web content.
In the works – an open, transparent web index for content
Using open source software and tools, OSF members are already working with volunteers, scientific computing centres and many researchers across Europe to build an infrastructure for a new web search. In this context, they are also developing a “catalogue” for content and websites, an open web index. “The target is a sustainable web search. It will be designed to respect user needs and privacy in a much stronger way than the dominant search engine providers of today”, Plote states. “An open web index forms the basis for new search and other digital services, thus for common-good alternatives to Google and Co.”
Information and events on #FreeWebSearch Day on and around 29 September will be continuously updated at: www.FreeWebsearch.org
About Open Search Foundation e.V.:
The Open Search Foundation e.V. (OSF) is a non-profit European initiative. Since 2018, it has been campaigning for fair and transparent alternatives to mainstream search engines. Its goal is an open search index that takes ethics and European values into account from the very beginning. www.opensearchfoundation.org