Is Ecosia a scam? Here’s an in-depth answer.

What is Ecosia?

With 8 million active users, Ecosia is a search engine which generates revenue through ads and uses it to either plant trees or re-invest into the company. Ecosia is a search engine using Bing by Microsoft. The company is based in Berlin, Germany.

My initial thoughts on Ecosia

At first I was skeptical. Is Ecosia a scam? How do they plant the trees? How do they get the money to sustain the business if it’s free for customers? Why should I switch to it? We will answers these questions today and rate the business out of 10.

Business Model

(source)

This is how it works according to Ecosia:

  1. Consumers use Ecosia to search things.
  2. There are custom tailored ads from every search (through collection of consumer data).
  3. These ads that consumers see generate the revenue needed to plant trees.

This is still very vague, how do my searches convert into trees? Are the trees planted immediately? What happens if I don’t click on the ads do they still generate revenue?

According to some sites like GreenReview just using Ecosia for searches does not help plant trees. This is how Ecosia’s business model really breaks down:

  1. Every search made is really just through Bing (Microsoft’s search engine).
  2. Every time you click on one of the ads revenue is generated.
  3. Of all the ad revenue generated, a high percentage goes to Bing/Microsoft.
  4. After paying Microsoft, 80% of what is left is given to their projects.
  5. The trees are then eventually planted by each project.

I personally do not click on any of the ads, and according to Ecosia this means that I am simply increasing their number of users, which means I am only helping with increasing their outreach to more advertisers. They also do not say what percentage of the gross revenue is paid to Microsoft.

Since we have discussed 2 sides of their business model, this section will be scored out of 4. Firstly, solely due to the fact that I still had questions about Ecosia even after looking at their information page I brought their score down to 3/4.

Next, after digging further we saw that simply using Ecosia does not generate revenue for them. Instead we have to actually click on the ads. Due to this Ecosia is brought down to 2/4 in terms of their business model because as an individual it doesn’t feel as though I’m making a real impact on planting trees as they claimed in their vague information page.

Consumer privacy

Trust is very important to gain and retain customers. Without transparency or proof of executing their mission, people would be less likely to use search engines. Most businesses can easily sell their customers’ data to third parties as an additional revenue stream.

From their blog, Ecosia seems transparent and they give a detailed breakdown of their financial expenses (however, this is self-reported). As for their privacy policy, Ecosia says that they do collect some information. However, this information from consumer searches are anonymized in a week and are not sold to third parties.

However, another search engine called DuckDuckGo collects no personal information. This is very important to acknowledge as all of our data can be sold to third parties for any purpose, accidentally leaked to the public or the business can get hacked. Thus, since Ecosia’s competitor has a better privacy policy, Ecosia scores 1/2.

Alternatives to Ecosia

Since my trust has been gained and there is much evidence to prove that they are indeed planting trees, I then considered if Ecosia would be a better search engine to use over the more popular ones like Google and Yahoo. Essentially there aren’t any outstanding differences between search engines. However, Ecosia differentiates from their competitors by having a social cause of planting trees, while Google uses 100% renewable energy to run their operations. While both businesses have social causes, Ecosia is the one that reduces CO2 emissions.

Moreover using Ecosia means that you will have more privacy as a consumer versus using Google, which collects data points about you across various platforms like YouTube and Gmail. While Ecosia collects data about you like Google, it does not create a permanent consumer profile of you. This means that by using Ecosia over Google, you are decreasing the personal data collected about you.

Due to Ecosia having strong differentiator in terms of eco-friendliness, Ecosia has a strong advantage of converting the consumers of their competitors to convert and use Ecosia. Furthermore, the consumer privacy is much stronger than Google giving Ecosia 2/2 in this category.

Score before my opinion: 5/8


Do I recommend using Ecosia?

(Updated on Sept / 18 /2019)

After using Ecosia for 2 weeks, I switched to it’s competitor DuckDuckGo. This change was due to a few reasons:

  1. As of the time of my review Ecosia only generates money when the ads are clicked, and since I do not click ads I personally didn’t feel as though I was doing much to actually help raise money for planting trees.
  2. Since I switched from Google to Ecosia, I noticed a decrease in the functionality of Ecosia in comparison to Google. For example with Google if I search definitions of words it’s on the page. However with Ecosia I have to click on links to dictionaries for the definition. Due to multiple incidents of not being able to access information quickly, I got frustrated and switched to DuckDuckGo.

Due to me not using Ecosia anymore, I personally would not recommend it due to the reasons stated above but rather recommend DuckDuckGo. Scoring 0/2.

Revised Final Score: 5/10 (previously 7/10)


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References

  1. “100% Renewable.” Google Sustainability, sustainability.google/projects/announcement-100/.
  2. “DuckDuckGo Privacy.” DuckDuckGo, duckduckgo.com/privacy.
  3. Ecosia – the Search Engine That Plants Trees, www.ecosia.org/.
  4. “Ecosia is the Search Engine That Plants Trees.” What is Ecosia? – The Search Engine That Plants Trees, info.ecosia.org/what.
  5. “Ecosia.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecosia. Accessed 10 Sept. 2019.
  6. “Ecosia’s Financial Reports and Tree-planting Receipts.” The Ecosia Blog, 21 Aug. 2019, blog.ecosia.org/ecosia-financial-reports-tree-planting-receipts/.
  7. Hastreiter, Nick. “An Unbiased Review of Ecosia.” Path Around The World, 7 Sept. 2019, www.patharoundtheworld.com/ecosia-review/.
  8. “How Does the Personal Counter Work?” Ecosia’s FAQ, ecosia.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/201657341.
  9. Our Changing Climate. “Is Ecosia Legit?” YouTube, 20 Mar. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1AVgbI_1r0.
  10. Smith, Michael. “Does Ecosia Really Have the ‘impeccable Ecological Credentials’ That It Claims to Have?” Green (Living) Review, greenreview.blogspot.com/2016/07/does-ecosia-really-have-impeccable.html.
  11. “We Protect Your Privacy.” What is Ecosia? – The Search Engine That Plants Trees, info.ecosia.org/privacy.
  12. “Where Do Ecosia’s Search Results Come From?” Ecosia’s FAQ, ecosia.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/206153381-Where-do-Ecosia-s-search-results-come-from-.
  13. Zilliac, Chloe. “With Ecosia, You Can Help Plant Trees by Just Surfing the Internet.” Sierra Club, 22 Aug. 2019, www.sierraclub.org/sierra/ecosia-you-can-help-plant-trees-just-surfing-internet.
  14. https://whitchurchprimary.org.uk/learning-platform/

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Saran

Founder at Econaki
Hi! My name is Saran and I am the Founder of Econaki. My goal with the business is to provide in-depth information about the sustainability of popular products/services so that we can combat climate change amongst other problems.

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Tigran at Web
11 months ago

Very good writeup. I featured your website on my Facebook.
Hope that my fans would find it informative too.
Keep up the good work.

Gordey Pokrovsky
11 months ago

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