Q want that! The French search engine takes on Google by protecting your privacy

At first glance, Qwant is a standard search engine that classifies results by categories: web, news, social networks, images, shopping, music… But behind the scenes, it’s different from Google and other commercial search engines. Qwant does not track users via cookies (small files that store information); it does not collect any personal navigation or location data; it does not profile users. “We don’t even log website addresses,” says Leandri. “For each new browsing session, the visitor’s IP number is encrypted and converted into a sequence of characters in which numbers are added randomly. This avoids tracing the original number.”

Indeed, the results offered are not based on the user’s profile: “If two French people typed the same query, they would get exactly the same results since we don’t know who they are. Users are not limited by their supposed preferences, we empower them to make more important and unexpected discoveries,” says Leandri.

No custom algorithm

Qwant created an artificial intelligence system called Iceberg to select and prioritize content. Iceberg’s algorithms take into account a range of criteria such as the technical and editorial quality of the text or image, links to the page, comments and mentions on social networks, the online behavior of the Internet user . “Of course, Qwant is subjective because we decide on the importance given to each criterion. But at the same time, our results are neutral because, in the end, no human corrects them”, specifies Leandri.

To make money, Qwant uses the traditional pay-per-click method “just like Google did until 2009 before launching heavy tracking,” says Leandri. Qwant has an agreement with the Zanox affiliate platform which puts it in contact with several merchant sites. “Every time a visitor clicks on a link to a shopping site, we earn between 44 and 88 cents,” he said. Qwant has also signed partnerships with TripAdvisor, eBay and LeGuide. “If a website visitor rents a hotel room on TripAdvisor through Qwant, we get a small bonus.”

At the beginning of 2016, Qwant crossed the symbolic threshold of 1% market share in France and should be able to do the same in Germany as well. “Now publicists know we exist, we can get involved in their campaigns,” says Leandri.

Qwant has its own servers in the suburbs of Paris. “For a start-up, it’s a huge investment of several million euros, but it’s still essential. If we want to guarantee the security and anonymity of our users, we have to do everything ourselves internally. cloud (data centers subject to US laws allowing surveillance of foreign data).”

Leandri emphasizes that his startup values ​​privacy. “With our technology, we could make a lot of money from cutting-edge marketing, but we’re not trying to do that. We want to show that we can make a living doing ethical and acceptable work while respecting human rights. life of Europeans. Unlike those who want to constantly monitor everyone, we strive to create a project for society based on individual freedom.”

To ensure transparency, Qwant released the source code for their company’s software that interacts with users’ machines: “People who can read the code can verify that everything really works without collecting data.” On the specific algorithm he uses for search results, Leandri is more cautious as he says knowing this information would allow a site to tune in to rise above others in the results. of research. But Qwant is working on a technical solution. In 2017, the startup hopes to publish indeformable algorithms in open source.

In the immediate future, Qwant will focus on working on mobile, which represents only 12% of its traffic. Leandri says he is struggling to get tech giants Apple and Google to rank Qwant higher on the list of default search engines in Safari and Chrome browsers on smartphones and tablets. He believes this is the only way people will notice Qwant: “We could make our own apps for the App Store and Google Play but that would be pointless. To consult a site via Qwant, the user must open a browser. Google would instantly take over on the next query as it is the default search engine in most browsers.”

Fight Google

Qwant is trying to broker a deal with the Mozilla Foundation to become the default search engine on Firefox. Leandri is also fighting against Google on a legal level at European level. “I am vice-president of the Open Internet Project association, which brings together nearly 12,000 European companies who feel harmed by Google’s business practices.”

He has worked with the European Commission to launch legal action against Google to force the search engine to stop what he describes as an abuse of its dominant position. Qwant, which is also lobbying the French government, has received a positive response from many officials who want to see a European alternative to Google, says Leandri.

On the initiative of the French Secretary of State for Digital Development, Axelle Lemaire, several ministries have been testing the effectiveness of Qwant for several months. If the feedback is positive, managers should make it their default search engine.

Qwant is gaining popularity in the United States, at least among internet professionals: “Recently, senior Google officials found that, on the internet, the competition is only a click away. And they mentioned Qwant .”