10.16.19

Startpage and System1 Abuse Your Privacy Under the Guise of ‘Privacy One Group’

Posted in Deception, Marketing, Search at 11:44 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

STARE-page, staring right at you

Startpage and Privacy One Group

Summary: Startpage has sold out and may have also sold data it retained about its users to a privacy-hostile company whose entire business model is surveillance

FOR MANY years I had advocated ixquick (later redirected to Startpage); then it introduced some JavaScript mess and I stopped using it (went to Wikipedia and SearX instead). That mess was partly addressed recently, so I temporarily returned to using it. But then I was extremely disappointed to discover what had happened. I must share my findings and strongly insist that people stop using Startpage (or ixquick). They’re not what they seem. Not anymore.

About 3 weeks ago “Who are the owners of Startpage?” was published in the support pages of Startpage. It’s a bit vague and went under the radar. To quote: “Startpage, the world’s most private search engine, is owned by Surfboard Holding BV. Surfboard Holding is a privately held Dutch company registered in Zeist, The Netherlands. In its early years, Surfboard Holding had numerous shareholders. However, during its significant formative years, Surfboard Holding shareholders were substantially reduced to its core founders, who acquired a majority stake in 2006. We most recently welcomed Privacy One Group Ltd, a privacy-focused division of System1 LLC, as a significant new shareholder. Surfboard Holding’s founders and management continue to own an important stake in the company and lead its privacy focused-mission. You can find the press article here.”

“They’re not what they seem. Not anymore.”This linked to “Building a more private internet experience with Privacy One Group,” which gives the impression this is about privacy.

But this is System1. It’s a pay-per-click behavioral ad company. Startpage was sold to a pay-per-click behavioral ad company!

The Web site of the company says “System1 offers a new approach to attracting users and expanding audiences” and “We have buying strength across multiple networks and have unique search and ad partnerships with Google, Bing and Yahoo.”

“But this is System1. It’s a pay-per-click behavioral ad company. Startpage was sold to a pay-per-click behavioral ad company!”If Startpage becomes just another Spying Engine, what benefits are left to it? Nothing. But it’s even worse as it’s falsely being marketed as “privacy” (or “Privacy One Group” — a deliberate misnomer). Those who need privacy and private search can be physically harmed!

We’ve actually researched this for a while and spoke to people who might know more. But this is mostly shrouded in secrecy. Startpage prefers it that way and it issued vaguely-worded statements with words like “privacy” thrown in. “I have not been able to find anything on Privacy One Group at all,” one person told us. “I’ve checked the EU, US etc. Let me know if you find anything. Maybe it’s just a name that sounds good?”

Having done some further searching (not using Startpage, obviously!), we’ve found this Reddit conversation with about 100 comments.

“For the time being we can recommend SearX…”In summary, Privacy One Group is the very opposite of privacy, judging by the ‘upstream’ owner. It’s a mass surveillance operation, presumably for commercial reasons. Who the data gets shared with (e.g. search strings, what’s clicked and so on) we don’t know, but we must assume the worst. Oh, and just to be sure… everyone knows that DuckDuckGo (DDG) is also surveillance (and false marketing of privacy). Right? Everyone is aware, we hope. We covered this several times more than half a decade ago.

For the time being we can recommend SearX (when its pertinent instances are online, e.g. https://srx.sx/ which works at the moment but had uptime issues in recent weeks). It’s Free software as well, not just better at privacy (GNU Affero General Public License)

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