Make us your home page
Instagram

New Zeekly search engine offers privacy when using the Web

HOMOSASSA — Jeffrey Sisk spends most days on his lanai overlooking the woods, working on a computer. His dog, Simon, a Shih Tzu, sits at his feet. His TV stays tuned to Fox News or CNN.

Sisk was outraged by news that the U.S. government is monitoring the email and Internet activity of American citizens, information that was leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Sisk felt strongly that the government should not spy on average, unsuspecting citizens.

Sisk, 49, quickly got to work creating Zeekly.com, a search engine that protects the privacy of its users. Unlike Google, Yahoo and other search engines, it doesn't keep track of websites people visit or the keywords they search. And because Zeekly is encrypted, Internet and phone providers can't decipher the communication between a user's Web browser and Zeekly's servers.

"If I got a court order tomorrow, I can honestly tell them we're not storing the data,'' he said. "There's nothing for the government to get.''

Zeekly joins an expanding field of search engines devoted to privacy, an issue high on many people's minds since the Snowden story. The largest, DuckDuckGo, saw usage jump to 4 million daily searches this month from 1.4 million a year ago. After some mentions on news and techie sites, Zeekly reached a total of 1 million page views after the first week.

DuckDuckGo founder and chief executive officer Gabriel Weinberg said all the talk about Snowden created an opportunity for DuckDuckGo users to spread the word about the site and its usefulness. Many people accustomed to Google switched to DuckDuckGo as their primary search engine.

"There are many good reasons why people don't want to be tracked, and it's not just the government requests, which are serious. It's also the commercial ads,'' he said. "People are noticing they are following them around. It's kind of creepy and annoying, and it's getting worse.''

Internet security and policy experts say Web privacy isn't just a fad fueled by the latest news of government snooping. But whether these sites can become mainstream remains to be seen.

"I'm not sure if these websites will ever replace companies like Google, which have woven a range of other services into Web search, but I do think they will do very well,'' said Hibah Hussain, a policy program associate of the Open Technology Institute at the Washington-based New America Foundation think tank. "Hopefully, they can give incentives to the larger players to pay attention to privacy issues.''

• • •

A Georgia native, Sisk took an interest in computers as a teenager but focused on music early in his career. For years he ran a recording studio in Atlanta and, during the mid 1980s, worked as a stage manager for the Atlanta Rhythm Section, a Southern rock band known for its hit song So Into You.

Concerned about the up and down nature of the music business, he started working for a staffing company and dabbling in computers. He bought a book on programming — Sams Teach Yourself ASP.NET 4 in 24 Hours by Scott Mitchell — and three months later, in 2000, launched a job website for doctors called PhysicianWork. It went on to make millions of dollars and had 65,000 job postings at its peak.

The site was hit hard by the recession and, in 2011, Sisk sold it to a group of investors that also owned Find.com. Sisk stayed on as a consultant to develop business options for Find.com, which included a search engine. But when the funding for it fell through, he regained ownership of PhysicianWork and began looking for a new challenge.

Sisk's Zeekly moment came when news broke in June about Snowden and the government's surveillance program. On Aug. 1, Zeekly was born, pulling in results from Google, Bing, Yahoo and other sites. He and his wife, Patty, spent hours brainstorming the name, deciding on Zeekly because it had a good ring and started with a strong, underused letter. They liked that it worked as a verb. "Let's Zeekly it!''

Privacy, while a focus of the site, is just one aspect. Sisk plans to add email (like gmail), a Zeekly home page with weather and news, and its own Web index using a spider called Zeeklybot. His goal is to make Zeekly such a reliable search engine that the privacy factor becomes secondary.

Sisk says Zeekly has advantages over other privacy search engines, because all of its searches are protected. DuckDuckGo, for example, protects its Web searches, but any search for an image or video directs users to a site subject to its own privacy policy.

As the site evolves, Zeekly hopes to make money off pay-per-click and banner advertising, like other search engines. Zeekly can feed ads to users as they are doing searches, but there is no permanent record of what they looked for. That means an ad for Nordstrom could pop up when you view a pair of shoes, but you won't be bombarded with shoe ads for weeks.

Despite its fast rise, Zeekly hasn't been criticism-free. Phil Bradley, who writes a blog about Internet searching, said he liked Zeekly's comprehensive list of search options — news, sports, Amazon, iTunes, audio, Wiki, etc. — but he wasn't impressed by its search rankings. And when he typed in his name and images, nearly all were naked photos of a famous porn star with the same name. (Google, by contrast, shows a mix of people named Phil Bradley and just a few of the nude actor.)

Sisk started the site with $35,000, mostly in contributions from family, friends and Zeekly users. A crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo seeks to raise $25,000 to add features to the site and expand its reach.

In his pitch for donations, Sisk describes Zeekly as a "David and Goliath story of the little guys going up against the big guys and winning.'' Even if it captures a tiny fraction of Google's 100 billion searches a month, it could be successful, he said.

"I think this can eventually compete with Google,'' he said. "In my mind, there is no reason that Zeekly can't be on every computer.''

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110 or @susan_thurston on Twitter.

New Zeekly search engine offers privacy when using the Web 09/20/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 20, 2013 8:35pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. To catch a poacher: Florida wildlife officers set up undercover gator farm sting

    Wildlife

    To catch a ring of poachers who targeted Florida's million-dollar alligator farming industry, state wildlife officers created the ultimate undercover operation.

    To catch a ring of poachers who targeted Florida's million-dollar alligator farming industry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up an undercover operation. They created their own alligator farm, complete with plenty of real, live alligators, watched over by real, live undercover wildlife officers. It also had hidden video cameras to record everything that happened. That was two years ago, and on Wednesday wildlife officers announced that they arrested nine people on  44 felony charges alleging they broke wildlife laws governing alligator harvesting, transporting eggs and hatchlings across state lines, dealing in stolen property, falsifying records, racketeering and conspiracy. The wildlife commission released these photos of alligators, eggs and hatchlings taken during the undercover operation. [Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
  2. CBO analysis: 23 million would lose health coverage under House-passed bill

    National

    WASHINGTON — The Republican health care bill that passed the House earlier this month would nearly double the number of Americans without health insurance over the next decade, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

    Demonstrators protests the passage of a House Republican health care bill, outside the the Capitol in Washington, on May 4. The House took the unusual step of voting on the American Health Care Act before the Congressional Budget Office could assess it. That analysis was released Thursday and it showed the bill would cause 23 million fewer people to have health insurance by 2026. Many additional consumers would see skimpier health coverage and higher deductibles, the budget office projected.
  3. Florida Specialty Insurance acquires Pinellas Park's Mount Beacon Insurance

    Banking

    Tens of thousands of homeowners who were pushed out of Citizens Property Insurance for a private carrier since 2014 are finding themselves changing insurance companies yet again.

  4. Marijuana extract Epidiolex helps some kids with epilepsy, study shows

    Health

    A medicine made from marijuana, without the stuff that gives a high, cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy in a study that strengthens the case for more research into pot's possible health benefits.

    An employee checks a plant at LeafLine Labs, a medical marijuana production facility in Cottage Grove, Minn. [Associated Press (2015)]
  5. St. Pete Economic Development Corporation lures marketing firm MXTR to town

    Economic Development

    St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation has lured its first big catch to St. Petersburg — MXTR Automation. The digital marketing company announced Wednesday that it will fill 20 "high-wage" creative positions within the next 18 months, as well as open an office in downtown St. Petersburg this year.