no tracking, just search

About Mojeek: Business Model, Surveillance, and Privacy

Posted: 08 December, 2020 · Tweet

We frequently get questions, through social networks or our support inbox, about Mojeek's business model and the data involved in providing the world with a true alternative in search. To spread the answers to some of these questions further than the walled garden of our email inbox, or the social graphs of Twitter or Reddit, we thought it would be a good idea to publish some of them on our blog (part 1 of these FAQs is available here and part 3 is available here).

Business Model

What is your business model?

Search engine companies typically earn revenue from advertising (in many different forms). Other sources of revenue can include APIs and partnerships, including site and enterprise search. Recently search companies have started to explore a subscription model and/or micropayments. At Mojeek we are exploring options for our business model and all of these are potential routes for us; indeed we have had small revenues from some of them without being focussed on revenue streams. In 2021 we will start to focus on which revenue options to pursue proactively. Enabling people to search on Mojeek without tracking (aka surveillance) is a something we will not compromise on, so any routes we go down will be guided by our privacy-by-design principles.

How can I be confident you will be around in 2025?

Mojeek started as a personal project in 2004, then as Mojeek Limited in 2009 right up until today. With a major investment made in 2019/2020 we have a considerable runway to create a sustainable business. Our investors are providers of patient capital. They are all individual angel investors that are backing our long-term goals. We have no investors that are VCs, companies, or institutions.

How has Mojeek managed to survive so long when other search engines have come and gone?

At Mojeek we have always been careful and resourceful in the use of investment. We have only ever accepted that from sources of individual private capital who understood the importance of building up our own index and a full tech stack, independent of Big Tech.

What is your position on advertising?

As the only non-tracking, crawler based search engine, our business model cannot be like that for other crawler-based search engine companies. Their underlying business models are based around optimisation of advertising revenue based on data collected from you; by tracking your characteristics and your online behaviour. These companies are the heart of the Adtech ecosystem; indeed many would say Google was the company that kicked-off Adtech and surveillance capitalism. Mojeek cannot be part of this Adtech ecosystem even if we wanted to be, since we do not, and will not, offer the data that is required to be part of it. Any advertising on Mojeek will be based on the limited data we have such as search queries and location.

Do you compete with Google?

No. We firmly believe that there should be more choice when it comes to search. Monopolies are unhealthy and the almost 100% market share held by Google, Microsoft, and their syndication partners is bad for users and society. As we are the only crawler based search engine that does not track, you might say we are competing with no-one; although that is obviously not the case. Other “privacy” positioned search engines offer some of the same benefits as Mojeek, but they are all syndication partners of Bing (mostly) or Google. In our opinion they are not offering a real alternative.

Surveillance

Why should people trust you?

We’re very happy when this question comes up as it shows that people are approaching activities around their privacy and security with a healthy dose of skepticism. As a search engine which has not been tracking users since 2004 and with a privacy policy declaring that publicly since 2006, we’d hope that this quantity of time having passed without any “Mojeek is selling user data” stories would at least give people some confidence. It is important that the people using Mojeek assess the whole of their attack surface and utilise other tools alongside non-tracking search in order to protect their privacy, such as VPNs, privacy-conscious browsers, and browser extensions.

What happens if a certain government authority comes knocking, demanding all logs for a certain time period and IP range?

User IP addresses are not logged, so it wouldn’t be possible for us to provide that information; we simply do not have it.

Have you ever received any requests for information from any authority?

At the time of writing we have not received any requests for information from any authority. If we were to be compelled by a court or similar to give over information, all we would ever able to hand over would be uncoupled search queries, referral data, and requested pages. We log, on aggregate, where traffic comes from at a country level, but we do not and never have logged or stored individual IP addresses. Any information about browsers used is uncoupled from search queries.

Does being in the UK subject you to surveillance under the Snooper’s Charter?

The Snooper's Charter (or Draft Communications Data Bill) was only a bill, it was never implemented. The similar ‘Investigatory Powers Act’ was passed, but that applies to Communication Service Providers, not us. As a non-tracking search engine which respects privacy, we don't store any IP addresses or other information that would be useful to the UK Government if they were looking to identify individuals and if we were compelled in court to hand it over. This all being said, we encourage all Mojeek users to use a wide variety of anti-surveillance and pro-privacy tools when browsing the Web.

Can you be a private option whilst being resident in a Five Eyes member country?

The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As Mojeek does not store IP addresses, there would be very little useful information to hand over to the Five Eyes nations were they to compel us to give them data or to allow them to access to Mojeek’s backend.

Privacy

How does Mojeek protect my privacy?

Mojeek follows a strict no-tracking privacy policy. In fact, Mojeek was the first ever no-tracking/privacy-orientated search engine. For more details check out our article on private search.

What is your privacy policy?

You can read Mojeek’s privacy policy here.

What data do you collect?

Mojeek doesn't implement any kind of specific user tracking, whether that be at the time of visit or subsequently via standard logs, which Mojeek does keep. These logs contain the time of visit, page requested, possibly referral data, and located in a separate log, browser information. IP addresses are not recorded, instead the IP address is replaced with a simple two letter code indicating the visitors country of origin. By doing this, Mojeek removes any possibility of tracking or identifying any particular user. We use a URL parameter to monitor if a campaign landing page visit results in a Mojeek search request. This parameter is visible in the URL and is not used after the first search.

Can’t I use privacy tools and settings to achieve the privacy offered by Mojeek?

We recommend that if you are conscious about your privacy (and you definitely should be) that you use a wide variety of tools such as VPNs, privacy-conscious browsers, and browser extensions in order to protect yourself online. Even with these tools, you could leak information through entities using things like browser fingerprinting. One of the biggest positives of supporting a non-tracking search engine with its own index is that this support is key to keeping us going and allowing us to continue providing the world with a true alternative. With your support we can move the world closer to a situation where it’s a lot easier to have online privacy by default.

Does it matter which browser I use?

No matter which browser you use, Mojeek is not tracking you. And Mojeek does not pass any data to browsers. This being said, your choice of browser will have an effect how private and secure your browsing activities are in a more holistic sense, as well as affecting your available choices when it comes to browser extensions.

What browsers do you recommend?

Obviously we recommend browsers where you have a good deal of control of settings and, in particular, control of privacy and tracking. We suggest you use browsers that are easy for your to add Mojeek to. It’s always useful to have a few options at your disposal and you might want to do that with browsers. You can do the same with search engines and we have provided notes on how to set-up Mojeek and other search engines on some of the browsers we recommend: Firefox, Vivaldi, or Brave. Above all else, we would advise that you avoid Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Apple Safari; all three are interested in collecting data about from and about you.

Do you takedown webpages with bad content?

We try and remove sites from our results that are malicious and/or contain malware; we also remove sites that contain content relating to child sexual abuse. This process is not foolproof, and if you believe that we are showing or not showing results that go against this policy, please get in contact with us.

How can Mojeek users independently verify that their privacy is indeed respected?

This is a great question and the honest answer is they can't. Ultimately it comes down to a matter of trust. Even with code that is open source, or when independent audits are conducted, verification of these matters is no guarantee. A company might be running a different version of their source code in practice and features could be switched on or off during an audit. Having said that we're open to exploring ways that our users can be more reassured in this matter. Mojeek is an official UK company with a clear and short privacy policy. We define there exactly what very limited information with do log; for instance we do not log IP addresses.

Subscribe to The Mojeek Newsletter