German start-up challenges Google with ‘greener’ search engine

30 Aug 2013

Imagine doing an internet search and not only would you find what you are looking for, but a tree would also be planted as a result. Enter Ecosia, a German-based search engine that apparently donates 80pc of its income to a tree-planting programme in Brazil. Its search-engine results are mainly powered by Yahoo!

Ecosia comes under the wing of Berlin-based Ecosia GmbH. This is a German social business owned by Christian Kroll. It was founded four years ago.

Ecosia has just given its search engine a revamp, and now wants to give users a ‘greener’ experience when using its search engine rather than opting for the usual search engine giants, such as Google.

The goal, it seems, is to empower people to do some social good when using the internet to look for and buy stuff.

Ecosia has partnered with the Nature Conservancy’s Plant A Billion Trees programme to help play its part in reforesting the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.

Ecosia says a tree is planted every minute once a user switches to Ecosia as his or her default engine.

It also claims its web search is “completely” CO2 neutral.

Deforestation of the Atlantic Forest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's capital city. This hill in this photo was apparently deforestated in order to use its clay in civil construction in Barra da Tijuca, a borough in Rio de Janeiro that is well known for its beaches. This image was taken in 2009. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Deforestation of the Atlantic Forest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s capital city. This hill in this photo was apparently deforested in order to use its clay in civil construction in Barra da Tijuca, a borough in Rio de Janeiro. This image was taken in 2009. Image via Wikimedia Commons

How does it work?

Internet users who are searching for something or someone must set Ecosia as their default search engine.

The German search engine currently has two main sources of income. These are EcoLinks and EcoAds.

Apparently, the German social enterprise gives 80pc of what it earns from EcoAds and EcoLinks to the ‘Plant a Billion Trees” programme.

At the moment, Ecosia says that this amounts to about €2,000 per day. It says that, since its relaunch this summer, it has helped spawn the planting of 12,036 trees to date.

The remaining 20pc of Ecosia’s income is used to neutralise the CO2 emissions of web searches used on its platform.

This leftover income is also used to help pay the bills at Ecosia when running and growing the search engine.

To offset its CO2 emissions, Ecosia works with a Gold-Standard project in Madagascar run by its partner myclimate.

Ecosia has also developed its own algorithms in order to help improve the search experience. As well as this, Ecosia deploys third-party search technologies, such as Bing and Wikipedia.

Ecosia’s search tags also aim to give users quick access to external search functions, such as images, maps, YouTube and Google Maps.

Complete data privacy on the net?

Finally, one of Ecosia’s goals is to be a 100pc data-private search engine.

“We believe that an individual’s personal data, including their search queries, are their own business and no one else’s,” claims Ecosia on its blog.

This, however, remains a challenge, as Ecosia says the policies of its independent partners may diverge from its own.

It says this “limits” Ecosia’s ability to make promises regarding privacy at the minute.

“We are still required to send some personal data (eg, your IP address or browser type) to our search partner Yahoo!” it says.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic