We all search the web. And as we become more aware about our climate changing, we want to use greener products and services too. But how can you find them? We recently finished a project with the open source privacy protecting search engine Searx, to turn it into a green open source privacy protecting search engine, that you can use today. Read on for more.

As we said before, we all search the web to find stuff we need, and a few years back we built a set of browser extensions that will highlight results on website that run on green energy when you search on Google, or Bing.

Search engine results, showing green hosted sites with a smiley face.
Green results are highlighted when you use the extension

The thing is, you need to have a browser extension installed on your machine, our extensions have no control over how information about what you search for is used by the search engine providers. And after being followed around by the same retargeting ads for weeks, you might want to use a more privacy protecting search engine instead sometimes.

(By the way if you’re curious about how we use data, check out our privacy statement – we’ve tried to make it as short, and clear as possible)

Greening Searx

In cases like this, you might want to use Searx, an open source, privacy protecting search engine. It works by taking a search query you have and checking it against a range of different search engines, before providing the results in a unified view.

We’ve set up an instance of Searx on the Green Web Foundation servers for you to try out now:

Screen shot of Searx, hosted by the green web foundation.
You can try Searx out by visiting https://searx.thegreenwebfoundation.org/

This instance is special though. Lets say you want to do a search, for hand sanitizer – you can see the results as normal from query, without sharing any information about yourself:

Searx results for hand sanitizer, showing information from wikipeda and other sources
Result from running a searx search

Now what if I wanted to see results, but only from sites that run on green energy? I can set this in the preferences now, by making sure a new option, only show green hosted results is set:

Searcx preferences screen - only show green hosted results is checked.
You can choose to filter out results that run on fossil fuel powered infrastructure now.

Setting this will then update my results with a filtered view, only showing results from providers who are using green powered infrastructure. We’ve chosen to search hand sanitizer because well everyone is right now, but if you were looking for sustainability advice, this would be a pretty good way to see who’s taking the subject seriously, and who isn’t.

Filtered view of a search provider
Filtered results.

How we do this

Under the hood, this works because we’ve built a new plugin for Searx, that takes use a local copy of the open dataset we publish about the web listing which sites are green, and which ones are not.

And performs checks against every search result returned by all the search providers Searx runs your query against, to only show ones using green infrastructure.

Privacy first, with open data

By performing checks against this local database instead of the The Green Web Foundations Greencheck API service, no information about which sites are being searched, or which results are coming back is sent to the Green Web Foundaton servers. Also, because checking against a local database is much faster than making requests over the internet, you end up with a much zippier user experience. Neat!

How we do this

You can see the code in our fork of Searx on github with the plugin, and we’ve been working with Searx to get it merged in for a future release – we’re working in the open, so you can follow progress along in this pull request on github.

Until then, you can try out a greener, privacy protecting searches at https://searx.thegreenwebfoundation.org, or follow the instructions on our github repo, run searx on your own servers.

Stay safe, and stay green fellow web fans!

Special thanks

This work would not have been possible without support from NLNet. If you want to work on building a more open, sustainable, privacy protecting internet, they are great folks to talk to.