29. April 2021

Realizing equal access to digital markets

Before I came across the Open Search Foundation (OSF), I spent not much thought on internet search. Thanks to the advent of the major search engines, obtaining information has never been so easy. I briefly open the browser of my choice, enter the search terms, press the Enter key and voilà - the job is done. Approximately 997,000,000 results in less than 0.8 seconds. I have never questioned the results of my searches or the processes that play a role in obtaining them. Only by taking a closer look at the purpose of the Open Search Foundation, I came to realize that why a result appears on my list – and particularly on top of my list – is not transparent to me. Even worse, I do not know what I actually can’t see. Apparently, this depends on where we live and all other digital traces we leave on the internet. For example, if we consult Google on “climate change,” we’ll get different results depending on the region we live in and whether the topic in question is generally accepted or contradicted there. So, how can we judge the results that are presented to us if we don’t know how algorithms and filters lead to them?

The Open Search Foundation intends to change this situation and envisions a transparent and non-commercialized web search. The Open Search Foundation reimagines the future of the search infrastructure in Europe as a “free good”. They believe, that only if the search in the internet is free of commercial interests and builds upon open algorithms, each of us has the equal chance to be searched and found in the internet and thus prosper from a global digital market. This constitutes an important base for preserving diversity of businesses in our digital economy and support European digital sovereignty.

How can the OSF’s vision come true? Perfectly in line with their credo “What we cannot do as individuals, we create together,” OSF initiated a movement among people who work together to create the foundations for such an independent, trade-free access to information based on an open-source approach. In a nutshell, it’s not a centralized approach but the idea of combining all large, mainly university computing centres to join forces to index the internet together. What started in 2016 as a small idea by concerned German citizens in Bavaria is now supported by the EU, discussed in the Süddeutsche Zeitung as well as the New York Times, and supported by various university computing centres.

What can we do? The first step is always awareness. The Open Search Foundation offers an informative blog and newsletter you can follow in order to learn more about this complex matter. Particularly through education, it’s imperative to discuss this issue and spread awareness, and OSF may provide you with support material for this purpose. Of course, you can also support the Open Search Foundation by engaging in activities or funding directly. However, the most vital step is certainly to step out of our search-comfort-zone and to use smaller search engines. For my part, I will try to use a greater variety of search engines and generally search the internet more consciously from now on. Even if that means that my search no longer yields almost a billion results or takes longer than 0.8 seconds.

Shania Ender
Shania Ender
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