One question that always circulates in our mind is that how we can sustain our online privacy in this monopolist tech industry. From renowned social platforms to search engines, we don’t have any reliable options where we get tension free regarding online data security.
And by creating a monopoly in the market, the enforcement of policies like GDPR seems like failed to stop these tech giants from aggressively targeting users by collecting their data.
However, a few days ago we found a great privacy-friendly search engine “Ecosia”, which is an ultimate alternative to Google. And what they are doing for social cause from their earning is something fresh, unique and mind-blowing.
Due to all of the above reasons, we immediately contact the Ecosia team to get more information about their unique idea of planting trees via a search engine. And we are grateful to Ecosia’s Country Manager “Jacey Bingler” who gave us her precious time to answer our questions. The passion and desire to achieve Ecosia’s mission that we found during the interview with Jacey was an ultimate experience.
We are so happy that organization like Ecosia are still present in this highly competitive world who are purely working for user’s online privacy and spreading awareness about how these tech giants control your decisions.
So without wasting your time let’s find out how Ecosia is achieving its tree plantation mission via providing a fantastic privacy-friendly search engine and why you should prefer it over monopolist brands.
Q1- First tell us about the search engine Ecosia and what is the idea behind it
Ecosia was founded in 2009 by Christian Kroll, who is still our CEO, and yeah his ideas was about the money that is generated by search engines through online advertising to address a good cause, which is in his case was tree planting. Because he realize that planting tree as much as possible could have a very big impact on control the negative climate change and would help to balance the climate.
So, he decided to use the profits and revenue to plant trees and that’s what we have been doing ever since, and it is working very well for us so far at the moment and we just reached the milestone of planting 30 million trees and that was about a week ago, which was very exciting for us.
And those trees are being planted all over the world, especially in the areas where we can get the biggest impacts on people, living species and the overall environment. And we do this with the help of our revenue, and we publish all our business receipts publically to tell people how much income we received every month and how we spend this incoming in which type of planting and much cost is involved in this and how much money is left for the planting of trees.
So that’s about 700 or 800 thousands Euros, meaning almost a million dollars every month. Moreover we are recently working on most privacy friendly search engines, and we are working quite hard on it for a while and we also released a news about it almost a couple of weeks ago.
Q2- Your planting tree idea caught our eye, and don’t you think it is something very unique especially in the world where mostly tech related organizations working for the sake of money and have no interest in social betterment?
Yeah, it is something that is really important to us to prove that you can use tech for something good. And there are so many opportunities to use like devices or services on which people are rely on daily basis to generate funds for something that is altruistic and something that doesn’t only help the company or for few board members benefits.
But helpful in resolving some of the most crucial issues and challenges all over the world such as climate change. And using this approach or using techno social business is something that at the core of Ecosia. Without the tree planting it wouldn’t be what it is right now, means if we didn’t plant trees with our profits then it wouldn’t be called “Ecosia” the tree planting search engine.
Q3- do you have the team, which decide where to plant trees next, or team of scientists who are working with Ecosia?
Yeah, although there is a whole team at Ecosia, who decides where to plant the trees but there is one person who has the really deep scientific background. He knows about landscape illustrations, well informed about CO2 emissions, how tree-planting approach works best in different scenario and he is working in this field for the past 10 years.
Moreover, he is very well aware about the tech industry like who are the leading companies and he knows where to look to accomplish the unique objective of Ecosia. Especially when it comes to who are the one who really helps and give funds for planting tree in tech industry, and what criteria these companies are looking for and also how to approach things, he knows the best.
Basically he is our tree planting officer and I think which is very amazing job title. And personally I also think, he has the most interesting job as compared to us because every day he meet new people and travel and visit our planting sites all over the world. Although other team members sometimes join him on his visit but he is the main person of Ecosia team who collects the scientific information and the background regarding plating trees.
Q4- While you were talking about tree-planting team, you said that Ecosia recently emphasize on privacy and it has recently launched the news that your search engine is completely privacy friendly right?
Well, completely privacy friendly, we find very hard to communicate. Because it is feel like it doesn’t exist on the internet. There is always an information that is somehow be shared on using a browser or a search engine or what kind of service you are using, but there are few things, which providers can do like allow the users to be more privacy friendly.
And there are something that users can do to be more privacy friendly like using VPN or Tor, etc. But what Ecosia do is that we turned off the party tracking, so we now only track as much as we required to understand how our users using our search engine and how they are responding to the features it offers, etc. Moreover, we limited out tracking only to understand that responsive behavior for our partners who helps to made Ecosia search engine.
And we absolutely don’t allow the third party apps to use our users information, which is allowed by most of the renowned search engines brands and their apps such as Google Chrome browser, Google Analytics, Facebook, etc.
Moreover, it is really hard to work around these things, especially when you realized that majority of online business are hungry for users personal data, which is completely unacceptable at Ecosia. And this is what we are doing to don’t share users data with these third parties and this the way Ecosia providing privacy by not aggressively targeting users.
And for the prove you can also find all the details at “info.ecosia.org/privacy”, which is explained in a simplest manner and can be understand by a user who don’t have the knowledge about the online privacy element and or have degree, and we think this is great.
We strongly encourage seeing as your main objective to spread the awareness regarding online privacy and we think you would be happy after seeing the extensive detail we provide in our privacy section.
Q5- The features offers by you search engine Ecosia are pretty much similar what other search engines Offer? So, is there any unique feature of Ecosia that differentiate it from other search engines available online like from Duck Duck Go let say?
Yeah, obliviously that the fact we plant trees, we use 100% of our profits for this purpose. So this is something that Duck Duck Go doesn’t offer. Although they are great search engine and they offer good product for its users, who are focused on privacy but for people who want to support privacy friendly search engine and be able to support good cause without have to actively donate, then I think Ecosia is best choice for them.
And supports a business who used its revenue by running online advertisements for planting trees, so basically Ecosia is a choice of these kind of people.
Q6- Why you guys are specifically running your business on search engines, as there are other options available in the market? Any reason behind this approach?
First of all, Ecosia doesn’t have to necessarily focus on to being a search engine or offering a search engine for the future. It means, there are something in which we are might be looking into and trying to see if we can broad the variety of products we offer or might be something we would like to add in to our product list.
But for now it is just the most easiest and transparent way for generating funds because use of search engines is something that user use on regular basis, because there is always a thing for which you are looking for on internet.
Therefore, due to search engines extensive use in every corner of the world, it is the best way to generate huge amount of income. Like in 2015, I think the online revenue generated globally was about $160 billion. And company’s like Google, I think in 2017 earn more than $200 billion by online advertising business.
And this have been made because people like us engaging with these online advertisement and here you are the one who decides where this money goes. Like choosing Ecosia means this money will be used to plant trees and for this we make the support absolutely transparent, where you can see how much we give to each organization and how many trees get planted and also what kind of impact these trees have on global environment.
And not only that we also inform our users about our future targets and how we will achieve it. I think this is something that works very well for us and also work easily for people too as they don’t have to change their habit as they are switching from search engine to another and in our case it is Ecosia.
They can use Ecosia on their phone, they can use it on their tablet or desktop and at the same time they are able to support a good cause, which makes easy to accept the change without making big sacrifices and reminding their selves that they need to volunteer or donate, etc.
And yeah that something we might want in the future to help people to make more sustainable decisions by showing green or most environment friendly results. And becoming the first search engine that if you want to travel somewhere from A to B, that has the lowest CO2 impact. Moreover, helping users in order to find out like for e.g. this is most less CO2 emission product such as washing machine, air conditioners or information about the products who provides the same level of satisfaction by using fewer resources.
All these reasons are the present part of Ecosia and as well in future, because search engines have incredible impact on people lives already. And with this approach we think we could make a start, which help us in making difference in the approach of the people for the sake of sustainable future.
Q7- Are there any current programs or anything that’s lined up for the future that Ecosia going to do for spreading awareness to use it?
Yeah, we are already doing like trying to using the fact that we have very dedicated audience, we have around millions of daily active user. However we have around 7 million total users but almost million people interact with our search engine on daily basis.
And if you compare with other renowned search engines, Ecosia overall traffic is pretty much on mini scale but still it’s a quite large amount of audience. Moreover we trying to share the knowledge we have on one hand regarding tree planting like why plantation of trees is very crucial nowadays, how it help to keep the environment balance, the economy and the climates.
And on the other hand we also creating a biggest example regarding how organizations can run a business for social cause and how important is your online privacy nowadays.
Furthermore, we educate our audience through our Facebook pages by providing them sustainability tips or petitions if there are any of that we used for the purpose of web support. And we think all the information should be shared with the audience about type of sustainability mechanism and politics we used for Ecosia.
This is something, which we want to develop it further as the more users we have and the more big community we will become that eventually bigger the impact. We hope that may be our community will be able to influence decision makers and the people who can actually pass laws and who decide whether our global society developed into more altruistic and sustainably thinking one into more egoistically and free from racism.
Moreover we think this is something that we can’t achieve alone. There are many other great organizations working in the market that dedicate their earning for social cause, which is great. But still I think these kind of organizations are still very few in amount and thus we need more organizations like that to restore the world. That is why we are so urge to represent our business model all around the world, for which we think search engine is of the best idea to do it.
Actually in short, at Ecosia, we are looking forward to provide ultimate awareness among people regarding significant of climate change, environment and resources, which are good and healthy for them.
Q8- Tell me about challenges and barriers that Ecosia has come across in the accomplishment of this mission and how do Ecosia team members evacuate these challenges?
Yeah certainly one of the biggest challenge we came across is being able to pass “Google”, which is an absolute monopolist and no doubt it’s a great search engine and it has very well developed products and majority of population use their services because of it greatness. However, we think that the structure of monopolist or having a monopolist in tech industry is never a healthy situation.
Because if you see that in several country, 95 out of 100 people are using one search engine, and that search engine has lots of power and lots influence. That is why it’s very tough and hard for alternatives or competitors to reach people and even being able to introduce themselves to them “Like do you know there is a search engine who focuses on privacy. Or spends their money for social cause like tree planting and user’s data security and hello did you know you have choices and options regarding search engines”.
This is one of the biggest challenge we are facing right now that most of the users don’t know like there are other alternatives search engines available in the market. Even now a day if you are discuss something with people and they eventually say I will google this thing on internet rather saying that I will search this thing on internet. This is because most of the devices have Google as a default browser and we think this is very challenging.
So because of this users don’t know that they do have a choice of choosing different search engines which are other than Google. And this is something we are trying to tell the people and for this we talk to different marketers, journalist, online influencers to help us to spread a word about Ecosia and also other products which are unknown to users but in reality they are very beneficial to them.
Actually don’t get me wrong here, we are not doing anything that force people to don’t use Google but in simple they are not aware of it. And Google is great there is no doubt but at the same time it is making huge impact on our life. Like people don’t know YouTube is owned by google, the apps they downloaded and installed on their Android devices with the help of Play Store is actually owned by Google.
In this way Google are actually collecting a large amount of users data without letting them know about and play with users mind to convince about the things and products, which they want to sell the people. Which is very hard for us to aware people about our search engine Ecosia. But we are working hard and motivated for it.
Q9- Where would you like to see Ecosia and the Cyber Security situation in the next ten years?
Hopefully in a situation where more people know about the alternatives and also aware about why they want to choose them and just more education. It means may be in the situation for us where we can get more than 1% world market share, by which we can plant more than 1 billion trees every year. Which means that we can really have huge impact where we can restored multiple large landscapes on a very huge scale.
And it would also allow us to interact with people to share ideas for altruism and sustainability or maybe we get successful in influencing organizations to do something similar like us. And that’s we hope to achieve in the next ten years or maybe more than that.
We don’t want to become an only monopolistic organization to work for the social cause, we don’t want that. We would prefer to achieve this social cause objective with the help of multiple organizations with the same mindset and also enable user’s privacy at the same time.
Provide people choices and educate them enough regarding what product or service they are choosing and what kind of benefit they get from it. And to achieve all of these things we think education about these things and services is key.
Q10- As you told us “Education is the main key to success”, don’t you think the idea of educating students in school or colleges would be more beneficial with respect to online privacy and cyber security?
Yeah! I do think so just like coding or like understanding regarding what Artificial Intelligence (AI) means and how young people can maybe can pursue their career in this field because it will definitely expand in future.
Our future will totally depend on this because online privacy and cybersecurity will have massive influence on our life. Therefore it could become a huge opportunity for youngsters and could be very interesting because it also seems very scary and transparent to them. And I think the more you know, the more choices you have. And when you know better about the situation you are in, then you have a rough idea about, and you may be able to influence the result in most effective manner.
Q11- do you thing the introduction of GDPR throughout Europe is an excellent initiative, which enable the organizations to become more transparent?
I do think so in some situation or forcing like that can have a bigger impact by just hoping the organizations will change things from their side because they either think it doesn’t scare them. Is that so because these organizations think oh okay if there are certain things that I should promise to users, then I could may increase my user’s base. And in that way when they have a huge users following that no authority would be able to sanction or deviating from their promise.
Or if there is an organization like EU for example that enforces these challenges then every organization has to play fair and follow the same legislations and rules. And in this way I think then GDPR is a good idea or positive change just because all the organization aren’t allowed to deny any of GDPR policies. Which makes them more transparent and may be also help users to understand that there are the things which being done to them when they use different search engines or certain services and they do have a choice.
And there is someone who is safeguarding their personal data and monetizing these services. Even if they don’t know much as other technical professional does about the privacy situation. And there are people who taking this situation seriously and eager to learn more about it.
Q12- How would you define “Online Privacy”, what is your definition of “Online Privacy”?
I think Online Privacy is transparency if you want to know my definition. And I think most people understand that if they share things online whether images on social networks or personal information when they purchase something online. Or even their behavior or patterns when they browse different things, most of the people have hunched that they do share information what everything they do online.
And having the idea what they are sharing and what they can do regarding online activities or they aren’t feel comfortable with sharing specific information. Knowing about like if I do this then this website, product or service provide will know about me. And there are the things from which users can make this service provider limited to get their information.
Therefore I think transparency is the key when you talk about “Online Privacy” regarding different online service provider and GDPR policies, whether it is voluntarily or enforced, but at the same time it also means that by using the transparency regarding there is more information and may be try to understand in better way.
Q13- Don’t you think that transparency has lately start a movement regarding a change in user’s behavior like how they are interacting with things which are online, especially after the case regarding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?
Yes absolutely, we also see a lot when it comes to people reaching out to us through emails or comments they leave under Facebook posts. People ask a lot more questions that are relevant to the case with respect to our search engine. And we think these negative comments help us to improve.
However people also seems to be show their appreciative gesture through their comments regarding Ecosia and its primary objective of planting trees. Therefore after seeing these kind of feedbacks, I agree with you that transparency start moving at the movement, which is great for us and for them at the same time.
And also what we saw in recent times regarding giants of social platforms about how they use users data to help a political party to won the elections in US, now if people feel any threat regarding a online service or provider, they stop using them and boycott them too.
And they choose alternatives which they think that they are better for them. In this way, it put pressure on online service providers and giants of the industries and which then enforced change. Because if they realize that they are losing 10, 20 or 30% users due to others service providers are doing something better than us in terms of privacy friendly and users security. So if they don’t want to lose their customers, then they should make their online services or product more privacy friendly.
Q14- lastly we would be grateful if you suggest any reading, any suggestion or any tips for users regarding privacy? How could Ecosia help users in this case through their ideas and search engine?
I would say to all of the users who actively use online services to identify a person in your group of friends or your network, who you think that this person knows about regarding online privacy and also passionate about it. And the reason why I suggest user to choose a person from the group of people they know because it always feel good to get information and recommendation about like what VPN to use, which social platforms are safe to use and how to protect your privacy online.
Especially from the person who doesn’t have motives to sell something to you. And if you failed to find a person who is well aware about online and cyber-security, then try to find a person who is working in this industry, because they know a lot about online privacy and giants of the tech industry.
Moreover there are luckily many institutes online, who focus on the groundwork, who focus on providing education and yeah who want to help and make the situation more transparent for people who aren’t aware of how to maintain your online privacy.