The first version of a distributed search engine called YaCy has been released, partly as a response to the perceived privacy threats inherent in Google.
The YaCy project, backed by the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), announced the release on Monday. Unlike rivals such as Google, YaCy shuns the use of centralised servers in favour of results coming from a peer-to-peer network of users.
"Most of what we do on the Internet involves search. It's the vital link between us and the information we're looking for. For such an essential function, we cannot rely on a few large companies, and compromise our privacy in the process," YaCy project leader Michael Christen said in a statement.
Christen said the search engine "hands control over search back to us, the users".
Those wishing to use YaCy will need to download Windows, Mac or Linux software to do so. According to the team, all search terms are encrypted before they leave the user's computer.
One advantage of YaCy's distributed approach is that it avoids the ability of any one party to censor the list or decide on results ordering. Each user's computer "creates its individual search indexes and rankings, so that results better match what the user is looking for over time", the team said.
The team said that, at the time of YaCy's official release, there were more than 600 independent peers in the network. The service can be used to power a customised search portal, and sites including sciencenet.kit.edu and fsfe.org already use it.
"We are moving away from the idea that services need to be centrally controlled," FSFE president Karsten Gerloff said. "Instead, we are realising how important it is to be independent, and to create infrastructure that doesn't have a single point of failure. In the future world of distributed, peer-to-peer systems, Free Software search engines like YaCy are a vital building block."