The project investigated three alternative search engines from Europe: The privacy-friendly search engine Startpage, the peer-to-peer search engine YaCy, and the Open Web Index initiative. The analysis focused on visions and values shaping these search engines, how these get translated into search technology, and how the European context matters in these practices.
The results show that the search engine projects are driven by values such as privacy, openness, de-centrality and independence. These values are not fixed or rigid, but rather fluid, context-dependent, and changing over time tightly intertwined with the development of the technologies. This flexiblity enables the projects to develop a certain value pragmatics needed to grow and become more sustainable. Moreover, “European values”, and broader notions of Europe as “unified or pluralistic”, were imagined and co-produced along with the technologies. Some of them, such as privacy and digital sovereignty, were anchored in larger European narratives to situate and promote the projects.
Furthermore, less prominent visions of Europe were shaped in the context of alternative search engines, which pointed towards challenges in the particular Europen context. The frame of “bureaucratic Europe” most importantly, which search engine developers related to cumbersome funding structures and a reluctant start-up mentality. Moreover, alternative visions of a pluralistic Europe were articulated in regard to techonlogical diversity and de-centrality. An open web index, for example, could create a whole range of different search engines, ranking algorithms, and applications. This would better correspond to multicultural, divers, and federal European contexts than big tech companies like Google that primarily count on monopolism and commercialization.
To conclude, the project finally suggested three interventions that may help pave the way towards pluarlistic Europe based on technological diversity and decentrality.
The results of this project will be combined with results from two previous search engine projects to write the habilitation “Algorithmic Imaginaries”. This habilitation will show how search technology and society co-emerge in specific economic, political, and cultural environments; with a particular focus on the European context.
11/2016 - 11/2022
Elise Richter project.