How Search Engines Could Help Us Surf More Safely and Sustainably – a Concept

If you knew beforehand how much a website costs in terms of time, money, privacy and the environment – would you still visit it?

What if you knew visiting some website would cost you time or money? Or if it made your battery drain quicker or servers waste energy doing completely unnecessary work? Would you click if you knew the cost?

Pretty much all browsers today will show you whether the site you’re visiting uses an encrypted connection (SSL):

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And browsers like Firefox, Brave, Safari, DuckDuckGo and Tor take it a step further to show you which trackers and analytics tools a site uses. But what if you had that info and more before you even visit it?

Search engines already use bots to crawl the web, adding web pages to a search index. By supplementing those crawls with web performance audits, they could surface information about the page’s speed, its carbon footprint, the monetary cost of loading it and its risk to privacy – and display ratings on search results pages.

How could that work?

Speed

A search engine could for example run a default Google Lighthouse audit using a simulated “3GFast” connection for each page it crawls and translate its Performance Score into a simple stoplight code: red for 33 or below, yellow for 34 to 66, green for 67 and above.

The search engine could even use the Network Information API to determine whether your connection is slower than 4G and update the performance rating accordingly. That way you could avoid staring at a blank or partially loaded screen.

CO₂

In order to approximate the CO₂ footprint of a single first web page view, you need to determine:

  • How many bytes are transferred to the user on first page load
  • How much energy it takes to transmit web data
  • Whether or not the website is hosted by a “green host”
  • How much carbon is emitted for the needed electricity

The Website Carbon Calculator takes those variables into account for calculating the CO₂ emitted by tested pages. It taps the Green Web Foundation’s API for finding out if a web host is green or not. A search engine could use a similar tools for auditing the CO₂ of the pages in search results.

Cost

When you plug a URL into Tim Kadlec’s website cost calculator, a WebPageTest audit is run. The resulting bytes transferred are multiplied by the current lowest cost of data in pre- and post-paid cellular plans around the globe.

The more bytes transferred to the user, the more data volume is consumed. For pre- and post-paid customers in certain countries, visiting weighty pages can cost money. Knowing before you go could save you money.

Privacy

Here are some of the signs that can tell you whether or not a web page is secure:

  • It uses SSL (the URL starts with “https://”)
  • It has a privacy polity
  • It has contact information
  • The number and type of trackers
  • Whether it uses third-party cookies

There are tons of tools for checking website security out there, such as Blacklight. It’s just a matter of getting the search engines to check for you so you don’t have to.

Would you visit a site if you knew that afterwards you’d be followed around the web or shady data brokers would peddle your profile?


Published: Dec 02, 2020

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