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01.23.20

Confirmation: System1/Startpage Offered Pay to People Who Pushed for (Re)Listing in Privacy Directories

Posted in Deception, Search at 5:54 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Pull request or pulling a stunt/fast one? Because we value privacy we shall name nobody in this article.

EPIC privacy

Summary: The debate is now settled; those arguing in favour of listing Startpage as privacy-respecting are in fact secretly ‘compensated’ by Startpage (in other words, they’re Startpage ‘shills’)

OVER the past few days we wrote a number of articles about Startpage and about mischievous things that it had done (except selling out to a surveillance giant, System1). We still prefer not to name any people, but we will, instead, present their confessions.

“An open admission, a face-saving PR, was issued by him half a day ago.”While communicating about the unanswered Startpage questions and delisting of Startpage someone was approached by Startpage.

An open admission, a face-saving PR, was issued by that someone half a day ago. That someone confessed only after being asked questions which that someone cannot answer and having repeatedly attacked those who asked these questions, sometimes with vacuous projection tactics, hence becoming too big a liability even to Startpage. It’s a total cock-up because of that. Here’s the full confession:

Alright, I want to address the comments on this pull request.

I am going to give a lot of detail here in the hopes of clarifying this.

When the System1 investment into Startpage went down and the CEO contacted both Jonah and I to help answer the questions the privacy community had. Through those discussions and subsequent emails about how Startpage could have better handled the situation and why the privacy community was so alarmed, it was revealed that my professional background is in marketing and communications. Coupled with my experience and knowledge in the privacy community, I was offered a meeting w/ some of the Startpage team.

That meeting led to them offering me a contract to do 2 things.

1. To write a handful of blog posts for their blog related to their search engine, but also to privacy in general. This is something I already do professionally as a columnist, blogger, and author. Guest blogging is nothing new to me.

2. To meet with their team as a consultant and share my marketing/communications/privacy related experience with them.

As a professional marketer and writer, this is what I do. I will not be a Startpage employee or on their payroll.

That’s it. Any compensation being given to me will be for these services, which are part of my professional expertise.

The moment I got off the call with Startpage, I alerted the PrivacyTools team about the potential offer and that I believed this could cause a conflict of interest and since this has not happened to any other member, I wanted to make them aware so we could decide how to best handle the potential conflict. Did that mean I would have to leave the team? I was not sure, but I was willing to do so if asked. The integrity of the site is important to me, regardless of my status as a team member. While we are still discussing it now, we all agree some guidelines should be put in place. I asked that the team not go public until we had internal discussions and that I was sure I was even going to accept or decline the offer.

When it comes to this pull request to relist Startpage, it should be noted that:

1. It is a PR in response to an issue opened by another team member who agreed that Startpage should be relisted based on the answers we got from those questions. The PR cannot be pushed live by me without multiple team member approval. This ensures that even if I had not notified the team of the pending contract, that I could not just re-list a service on my own. Not only would I have to convince them it was the right thing to do, but also the community. This is one of the great features of PrivacyTools.

2. The issue and PR predates the meeting I had with Startpage and I only created the PR to satisfy the issue, as you have seen done many times before on our Github.

Startpage has not asked me to relist their service even though I am sure they would love to be. What service wouldn’t want to be? It’s a fantastic resource privacy tools and is well respected by users, organizations, and companies.

I hope this helps clarify things.

The above is pretty significant for a number of distinct reasons. First of all, anyone who still defends Startpage can be more easily accused of being either a Startpage employee or someone who was offered money by Startpage (or courting Startpage for money).

We’ve covered similar examples over the years; Microsoft is a common culprit (rewarding people with jobs in exchange for OOXML advocacy, among other things).

In the above case, it took a lot of pressure to extract the confession. “The offer could be an attempt to influence the relisting,” one person told us, “or it could be very bad judgment on the part of Startpage/System1.”

Regardless of this judgment, and irrespective of the listing, the above person was putting Startpage as a top pick for a search engine (at the same time). Is this a marketer? Seems so…

At the time the person was suddenly retweeting Startpage tweets.

Lastly, the person suddenly changed the business model and the title to “privacy consultant.”

This brings to mind this quote from Microsoft [PDF]: “”Independent” consultants should write columns and articles, give conference presentations and moderate stacked panels, all on our behalf (and setting them up as experts in the new technology, available for just $200/hour).”

We still don’t know just how much money was offered.

Fake privacy isn’t “consultation” but corruption of groups. Thankfully this one managed to call out the mole before its reputation was harmed severely.

“Why aren’t so-called private search engines DuckDuckGo or Startpage offered in Epic? Why are you unable to trust them?”Epic Browser

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