Browsers and Search Engines – 2022

It’s always worth reviewing which search engine you should use, as it is the browser of choice to “surf the web”. The reasons you might wish to consider which search engine you might wish to use are greater privacy, enhanced security, minimise adverts being displayed, or to get more meaningful pages being displayed, but first we’ll look at the web browser you might want to use.

First things first. If you’re using Internet Explorer you must seriously consider moving to Edge as Microsoft are removing support for Internet Explorer and one day you’ll find it just doesn’t work. If you’re using the initial release of Edge you should also upgrade to the latest version. It’s faster, more stable and uses the same code base (which is the open source Chromium) as some of the other browsers I’ll talk about later.

The next thing to remember is that Google is not a Browser. If you have a Google app on your smart device, it’s just Google’s “convenient” way of getting you to use their search engine and capture lots of useful marketing data from you! Google’s browser is called Chrome, and it uses the same code base as Edge (as mentioned above) – others include Brave, Opera and Vivaldi.

Chrome is by far the most popular browser accounting for more than 80% of the internet browser traffic, it has a wide range of useful extensions, and if you can be bothered to create a Google account and navigate through the preference screens, you can make it reasonably private – but you may wish to install the AdBlock Plus extension – an advert blocker, to stop intrusive adverts appearing on your web pages. [Another way of doing this is to look for Reader View, created for users with visual disability originally, which simplifies the view of a page on your browser screen.

But why use Chrome when you can use another browser which has built-in privacy. I’m talking about Brave. You can deploy many of Chrome’s extensions in Brave and virtually everything you see looks like Chrome, but without tying you to Google. I seriously recommend you look at Brave.

If not Brave, why not Microsoft Edge. The complete re-write of Edge using Chromium and with the support of Microsoft behind it makes this an excellent choice for those who use a lot of Microsoft applications (eg Office 365 which you can run in the browser, just as you can run the Google apps in Chrome) and is growing fast in popularity even if it’s Preferences menus are a bit tricky to work your way through.

If you’re an Apple user, I suggest you look no further than Safari, although all of the others can run on MacOS. It’s optimised for the Apple platform and integrates well with the other apps in the Mac/iPhone/iPad ecosystem.

That leaves two “outliers”. Firefox was one of the first browsers growing out the original work done on Netscape, it’s open source and has a huge and committed user-base. I have nothing to say against it, and nothing much to say for it either. It’s a good solid internet browser.

A couple of references to follow this up then …

The best web browsers for 2022 – ranks them under various categories.

The top ten internet browsers for 2022 – reviews the pluses and minuses of various browsers.

So we turn to Search Engines. You want to find something out on the internet – you just google it, don’t you? Well you can, but there are other choices as well, and this is where privacy concerns might suggest you might want to look at an alternative.

I’ll be upfront. I’ve been using DuckDuckGo (often in combination with Brave) for a couple of years now. I value the fact that my activity on the internet isn’t tracked and the results that are returned are not slanted towards my prior search history, and most importantly my activities are not farmed off to marketing agencies.

There’s nothing wrong with Google Search – it’s the most popular on the internet, but that’s by default rather than choice. The results are presented well, but there is a slant towards promoted results and results based on previous searches. You can change your search preferences a bit, deploy an ad blocker (see above), but why should you haver to!

DuckDuckGo is now presented as an alternative search engine in most, if not all, browsers and exists as an app on smart devices as well. Give a try! It’s my default search engine on my Apple devices.

The only real alternative to Google Search and DuckDuckGo is Microsoft’s Bing. The service has its origins in Microsoft’s previous search engines: MSN SearchWindows Live Search and later Live Search. Bing is now the code base for Yahoo’s search facility as it is for Ecosia – an ethical green alternative. Ecosia importantly doesn’t use any third-party tracking tools, meaning that any search made on the service won’t be seen by any party other than Ecosia. Furthermore, any search made on Ecosia becomes anonymized after one week. In contrast, Google and Bing will hold onto bits of search data (such as the device or date), even after deleting browser history and cookies.

That’s about it, some references then …

The ten best internet search engines of 2022 – a review, like the one above that highlights strengths and weaknesses of the various search engines.

Stolen phone & SIM locking

A rather disturbing incident involving a stolen phone and credit cards and the ability of a fraudster/thief being able to reset a user’s password/pass-number for a high-street bank occurred in September involving a journalist called Charlotte Morgan. She described what happened to her (and it transpired others) when her phone and credit cards were stolen from a locker in her local gym.

The incident was covered by the BBC and and also in the papers.

The incident was described by the FT Adviser in two reports – firstly the incident, and then (belatedly) Santander’s response.

Charlotte chose to broadcast her experiences on twitter and got a range of helpful and supportive pieces of advice.

So we start with the first piece of advice – keep your phone and your credit cards separate. Don’t store/keep them in the same place. Maybe, if you follow the advice that follows later you should just keep the credit card details only on your phone and dispense with using plastic. For Apple that involves storing the card information in your Wallet.

And this is the security loophole that the thief was exploiting. The default setting when you get your new phone, and insert the SIM is to leave the SIM unlocked. This means that the SIM can be taken out of the phone with your network details (and more), and inserted into another phone. Not really what you want, is it? So, lock the SIM to your phone, and by doing that, if the SIM is taken out – it is of no use in another phone. You will need to remember the new PIN you create which you will have to supply when you power-up your phone, or when you change it for a new/replacement. This is obviously an important piece of information to remember!!! There is no way of recovering the SIM PIN if you forget it!!!

So what actually happened. This thread explains it well …

So what do you do? On an iPhone or Android …..

But what are the default SIM PINs that network operators use?

This link will be useful as it lists the default SIM PINs for the major network operators. These are the ones you need to change to your own personally chosen PIN.

It really is quite important. Change your SIM PIN and keep your credit cards separate from your phone.

Switch-off of analogue PSTN

This article will record the progress of the planned switch-off of the analogue PSTN (public switched telephone network) by 2025, and its implications to all of our generation, as Openreach moves to implement a fully digital service. The issue was brought to the attention of the Cardiff u3a Computer Group by Jenny Sims, a group member, who has a number of roles including being Chair of the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) Digital Working party and an NPC Executive Member.

It’s an article that will change over the next few months and years, so please look back for updates and further information as we become aware of issues, problems and hopefully solutions.

What implications might this have for older people?

  • Digital services are not universally good across rural areas
  • There will need to be a solution to the issue of digital services requiring power – what happens if there’s a break in power supply, this has been highlighted recently after the storms brought down power lines in Scotland and NE England
  • Cell telephony doesn’t provide a 100% coverage as a backup to digital services

What implications might this have for people with certain disabilities?

  • It’s been reported to us that certain people with visual problems have been experiencing difficulties in the Salisbury pilot area with the withdrawal of the 1471 service, with call-back not working, and with needing to install a new phone number

A video showing the opportunities and issues for Telecare

Here’s a link to the Progress Openreach has reported by January 2022. Much of this is very technical, so some of the following information might be more readable.

Here’s a briefing from BT on the project; and an update on what’s happening in Wales forwarded to Jenny in her role sitting on the National Pensioners Convention. Which? have also published a briefing on the subject which I encourage you all to look at. 

Some additional references

Switchover from analogue to digital telephony: UK consumer and micro-business reactions

The UK’s PSTN network will switch off in 2025 – BT Business

Internet revamp for the humble landline – BBC News

OpenReach PSTN Switchover – a technical presentation

Jenny has also written the article below, which will hopefully appear in the latest Cardiff u3a magazine …


Ring, ring: Ready for the big ‘phone switchover?

Only three years until 2025 when all telephone providers will do the big “switchover” moving landline customers from the country’s traditional telephone network to digital technologies and analogue services are finally shut down. 

Though BT published a timescale back in 2019, many older people’s organisations have expressed concern that the public have not been given enough information about the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) moving to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), what it really means and how it could adversely affect older and vulnerable people.

Among them is the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), which represents 1.5 million members in Wales, England and Northern Ireland. 

Among the big questions is what happens if there’s a break in power supplies and people need to access emergency services – because the new system will run off broadband – and handsets will have to be plugged into an electricity socket.

Providers say solutions will be found – which will include the provision of emergency battery-powered backups for phones and routers.

This scenario became a reality last November when Storm Arwen hit the UK, causing widespread power outages and left 9,000 homes without power for more than a week.

Jan Shortt, NPC General Secretary did interviews with Talk Radio and other stations, and heard from affected listeners.

She said: “They raised the issue of not being able to charge mobile phones and other devices and therefore not able to summon help. It is clear that the majority of the population had not heard of the digital switch.”

In January Ofcom held an online public meeting to give an update on the “switchover” rollout throughout the UK and provide an opportunity to ask questions.

Jeff Richards, an NPC Wales executive member and a retired Swansea BT engineer, attended. He said: “Unfortunately they did not answer any questions that I raised regarding vulnerable customers nor anything on power supply. I felt that my questions were merely swatted away.”

BT have agreed to meet the NPC to address their concerns – which include, who will pay for the battery packs (some around £160) – the customer or provider?

Virgin Media has already promised that vulnerable customers with “accessibility needs or don’t have a mobile phone” will be given an emergency backup line at no extra cost.

Unsurprisingly, customers in various areas have reported teething problems as the system is being rolled out. For example, people in the Salisbury pilot area with visual problems have experienced difficulties with the withdrawal of the 1471 service and the need to get new phone numbers. 

Hopefully, in the three years left of the rollout, teething problems will have been sorted. But be prepared: only an estimated 1.5million out of 29million landlines have so far been converted – and one day those old phones will stop ringing!

For further information:

Jenny Sims is a Cardiff U3A Computer Group Member, Chair, NPC’s Digital Working Party and an NPC Wales Executive Member