Relisting Startpage.com

Dear PrivacyTools community,

In October 2019, we learned that System1 had become the majority shareholder in Startpage.com via a new System1 subsidiary, Privacy One Group. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the acquisition and the initial lack of clear communication from the Startpage team towards the privacy community, we were forced to delist Startpage from PrivacyTools's search engine recommendations. In an explanatory blog post, we asked for more clarity surrounding the situation, stating:


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://blog.privacytools.io/relisting-startpage/
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I find it a bit annoying that the best search result out there comes from Google-based engine. So when you guys decided to de-list Startpage, I tried to move out slowly and adjust myself to DDG and eventually Qwant and Searx. But when DDG result is not very helpful and Searx comes out empty, I still go back to Startpage begrudgingly. I am glad and very much appreciative that you guys are analyzing stuff like this.

Just a minor snag, occasionally Startpage blocks Tor, which is a bit annoying. I am all for finding other functional alternatives.

The privacy policy on Startpage needs to be updated to say System1 is now a majority shareholder.
They also need to explain that System1 is an advertising company.
The only reference to System1 on Startpage is on their blog page which I had to search for.

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I agree. Privacytools did put a warning label at the Startpage listing, but it leads to a Startpage article that refers to System1 as “a consumer internet company with a lot of search engine experience.”

Once consumers find out that System1 is actually a pay-per-click behavioral adtech company, they could feel misled.

Except right there you’re actually misleading people. While I do believe that’s where System1 got their start, their site showcases a lot more than that. I even think they just launched a brand new site since the Startpage partnership which showcases their brands.

They seemingly have moved well beyond pay-per-click and now own and run sites like How Stuff Works, and other publishing platforms from travel, food, etc.

They also own Startpage and other search engines, and even Mapquest, and Waterfox now.

So it seems to me they expanded what they do and what they offer.

They also released a new Privacy Stance, which sounds promising and I hope to see it upheld and honored.

But running around spreading outdated and false information seems do the entire situation injustice and only lends to spread further conspiracy around Startpage and System1.

Further, I have requested an interview with System1 leadership that I hope comes to fruition because I would love to hear and share their thoughts on why they are buying companies like Startpage and Waterfox and what they see the future of their company looking like.

I think the fact most of us don’t know a lot about System1 lends to conspiracy theories growing, but I also think we can’t run around spreading misinformation and not educating ourselves on who these companies are.

The fact is, System1 isn’t going to be the last to acquire and or invest in privacy companies because the trend is growing quickly. Zoom buying Keybase, Automattic investing in Matrix. It’s not going to slow down anytime soon. So we owe it to the public, as a privacy resource to know as much as we can and work with these companies to learn what we can before we run out and spread false information.

I agree with you, @danarel, and I encourage System1 to be more transparent and change course. I see they finally removed their mobile “privacy” browser Hush Browser from the Google Play Store. Maybe they are starting to realize that some of their privacy products aren’t as private as they should be?

I recommend they also revise their privacy practices and privacy policy. That policy is horrible.

Let’s also get an updated audit for Startpage and the processing System1 reportedly does for them. I will applaud them publicly for this kind of move. I’d also like to see them open source their code to remove any doubt. Removing the numerous trackers from their sites, would help, too.

I agree with @anon28164658 that Startpage should be more open and accurate in describing its new majority owner. Maybe it would be an opportunity for System1 to acknowledge its tracking past and detail the steps it will take, like audits and open source, to restore trust.

I look forward to following the evolution of this company. Perhaps they/Startpage should hire you/contract you again for needed guidance along this path. They could benefit from your privacy input. <3

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I created an account specifically for this, because I had been an early adopter of ixquick.

I do not trust anything System1 has their hands in; they are a for-profit ad company. My data is their market, whether it’s Waterfox, How Stuff Works, Startpage or whatever.

The answers that could alleviate any concerns are most likely proprietary:

  1. How much was paid for Startpage stock?
  2. Why did System1 feel the need to become a majority stock holder?
  3. What’s their profit path? How does the company envision getting ROI for their investment?
  4. As the majority stock holder, can they dictate policy changes?

And these are just a few. As a business owner, myself, I can tell you that I cannot throw thousands, let alone millions, of investment dollars without an expectation of a good ROI.

We should all practice due diligence when evaluating a product, especially where privacy is concerned. After all, the Khmer Rouge, the Bolsheviks and a hole host of other dictatorial regimes would have loved the data that can be collected by today’s technology.

I followed the link you posted and hope you are able to get that interview. Personally, I would love an AMA with System1.

Here’s a direct quote taken from the link you posted:

"What We Do

We use our best-in-class technology platform and marketing capabilities to build and grow brands and businesses in three areas: Publishing, Search and Applications & Services."

“Search… & Services”. Isn’t that Startpage?

How do they “grow brands and businesses” with “marketing capabilities”? Is it through “Search… & Services”, at least in part? Who knows what information they’re capturing through their other web-based investments; however, regardless of that, System1 remains what it started out as, a marketing/ad company.

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you should 100% delist them again, because they block Tor and VPN users from using their search engine.

(post withdrawn by author, will be automatically deleted in 24 hours unless flagged)

They block it, but inconsistently. There is a feedback field and I just put that I am behind a VPN and it fixes things sometimes.

I dont think it is enough to get delisted. I guess VPN users trip the per IP bandwidth limit somehow and gets detected as a bot traffic.

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