Back in the early days of the internet, the social contract between user and website was pretty straightforward. Most content was free, as long as you didn’t mind a few banner ads that funded the site. Nowadays, it is your personal data that is paying, and few people realise just how much they are being tracked and monitored.

It wasn’t that long ago that the internet was only used in the office, but as it started to creep into our households, our phones, our TVs, so did the monitoring and tracking of very personal aspects of our lives.

For example, search engines such as Google do not only file away search information, but continue to track your online journey from where you came from, on to where you are going, even working across devices, from laptop to phone to tablet, to build a profile of you.

Deleting your cookies, browser history and using Incognito mode really do nothing to solve the problem either. Advertisers know your age, sex, location and even your income bracket or online purchasing history, and bundle this into an online profile defining you as a user and selling that data to the highest bidder.

Needless to say, this will affect the information you are given on offers and search results based on your age, income level, likes, etc, which can be both a good and a bad thing.

In the past couple of years, some dialogue boxes have begun to appear on websites stating that you need to agree to their “cookie” or “privacy policy”. But what does that mean? Do you agree, disagree? Do you care?

“You should!” argues Robert. “People don’t realise just how much a search engine knows about you from your search history, and quite often they don’t understand the repercussions.”

Perin added: “You might look at a special offer on a holiday, send the link to someone who’ll open it and the offer will have changed because the cookies and metadata on that person show a different profile.”

And therein lies one of the issues for Robert and his co-founder, Frederik Cornell. This data collection and subsequent mining of that data to target you with advertising is big, big business. It’s the reason that the internet appears free to use. The commodity of your personal data is sold to the highest bidders out in the corporate world.

“Another concern is that all of that data is stored in the Cloud, which in itself can then be targeted by hackers and local intelligence agencies. Data that is held, is data that can be hacked. That is why at Oscobo we store no data on the user whatsoever. No IP, no cookies, no tracking and no profiling data,” says Perin.

The new search engine that the pair have created is called Oscobo, being a loose corruption of the latin “scobo” meaning to look into or to probe, and “o” which in Swedish means “not” or “non”; literally Oscobo, not probing.

Oscobo provides pure search results based solely on the terms typed in. They do not use cookies or IP addresses, and they do not track you. No data is held on the user or collated to form profiles. What you get is what you see; pure search, no tracking.

Frederik, who is currently out of the country on business, had become disillusioned whilst working at Yahoo. Having seen a growing internet adopt almost a gentlemen’s agreement policy on data collection, in later years, that was diminished. “He saw first-hand how far more personal data than necessary was being harvested than could be justified. We’d known each other since 2000 and I had noticed a similar trend, along with the trend of technology moving closer and closer into our personal lives, while I was working at Blackberry,” explains Perin.

It was their mutual concern about this practice that led them to investigate creating an anonymous search engine. Whilst there are others offering similar services in America, such as Duck Duck Go, Oscobo is the first UK-based privacy search engine.

Robert continues: “The level of growth in this privacy sector is outstripping the overall rate of growth in search (a $62.5 billion global market last year) which we see as very encouraging.” With brands such as Apple very publicly backing privacy and anti-tracking, the pair believe that now is the right time to be doing this.

Robert says: “By observing Duck Duck Go and how they have increased their traffic through education, they have helped validate the marketplace and we believe that the UK and Europe is a very ethical marketplace where people believe in their rights.”

So far, so good, but if revenue in the sector relies upon the data collection that Oscobo isn’t going to track and keep, then what is the business model?

Robert explains: “The social contract with Oscobo is simple. We provide pure search results based solely on the words typed in the search box. Like other search engines our revenue model is based on advertising if the user clicks on a sponsored link that is clearly labelled. Outside of this no user data is stored, tracked, or collated in any way, so we build no profile and would not recognise the same user twice.

“With other search engines, if you search for car insurance, for example, information about you will have been stored from previous searches and online activity and that will have been retained. This means that before you complete the information needed for a quote, they already know the car and details about you, so a relevant policy and price can be created. It is targeted to you rather than tailored for you. A subtle but significant difference.” This may not appear to be the end of the world, but there has been a darker tale that crosses a moral line for Robert.

There have been cases of people being diagnosed with serious medical conditions who, like many of us, have searched for information online to learn more, only to find themselves being sent funeral services ads and receiving cold calls for wheelchairs and other accessories due to their personal data being shared without their knowledge.

When you search through Oscobo you make a connection, of course, but once you navigate away from the site, Oscobo effectively erases your information. It is not stored, shared or reviewed in any way. Each time you return to the site, you are treated as a first-time visitor.

Frederik states it more firmly: “The profiles out there now, especially in this post-cookie world, are extremely accurate and they’re being traded in microseconds. I think if people knew what was going on they would object to it.” Ever since the Snowden leaks revealed the extent of surveillance, Duck Duck Go in the USA has made waves in the anti-tracking search space, and Oscobo wants to recreate that over here.

“We launched in January predominantly here in the UK, and we are expanding across Europe, although our search engine can be used in any country. One of our aims is to be part of a corporate IT policy to become a search engine with a brand that will highlight that businesses, as well as individuals, value online privacy.”

Oscobo licences its search index from Yahoo and Bing, which means that it can sidestep the need to compete head on with Google in terms of the tech. Aligned with its very clear policy on how and where they make revenue, the fact that they don’t resell data and won’t look to keep it to see where you looked before and after you went to their site, Oscobo makes a very appealing proposition.

“We think that it’s a bit of a myth that you need to do profiling and selling of data to make money,” adds Robert. “It’s an extremely profitable revenue model to have pay-per-click based on the keyword that someone’s typed in. Advertisers appreciate the return on investment because there’s intent there.”

The key to the success of Oscobo and others in this sector of the search market is education; the more people become aware of how their data is used and appropriated, the more they’ll care about how they can protect it.

Having not personally known the full extent of online data mining of our personal information before meeting Robert, one can see the appeal of a privacy search engine. As long as they retain this transparency, it makes a very compelling reason to move away from the mainstream search engines and begin to take back control of your own data.