Privacy-enhancing digital infrastructures (PriDI) – An open web index for more privacy in digital search engines

Navigation on the Internet and thus in the digital world is hardly conceivable without search engines. Their use is generally free of charge, while the lucrative business models of search engine operators are mostly based on the intensive exploitation of user data for personalized advertising and profiling in widely ramified advertising networks. The way search engines work is essentially based on a so-called web index, i.e. a kind of table of contents of the Internet. There are currently only four providers worldwide with comprehensive web indexes, as market entry barriers such as the enormous costs of setting up and operating a web index make it difficult for new search engines to develop their own index. They are dependent on the existing web indexes of the large platforms, which stipulate the terms of use, which are generally geared towards data collection, and thus regulate access to the search engine market. In contrast, an open web index without such restrictions could provide a large number of search engines with a basis for their services. Science and research could also use it for innovations, for example in the areas of artificial intelligence or privacy-friendly data usage.

The aim of the “Privacy-enhancing digital infrastructures” (PriDI) project is therefore to research how an open web index can be designed in compliance with fundamental rights and in a manner that promotes and protects privacy. Specifically, research is to be carried out into how central user acceptance criteria can be taken into account and how values such as privacy and data protection can be anchored in the web index in the sense of “value-by-design”. To this end, both legal and business informatics expertise will be used so that the resulting search infrastructure can be geared towards the best possible implementation of fundamental rights and applicable data protection law. At the same time, the researchers want to ensure a high level of user acceptance, which will be evaluated by various stakeholder groups on the basis of specific requirement catalogs.

An open web index increases diversity and freedom of choice in the area of internet search and promotes freedom of information. The project thus aims to make a comprehensive contribution to strengthening digital sovereignty in Germany and Europe. In addition, a possible opening of the search engine market through an open web index supports the informational self-determination of citizens in the long term. Overall, the project thus strengthens Germany and Europe as a location for digital business by strengthening and upholding fundamental rights.

The PriDI project is part of the “Platform Privacy” funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Here, experts are investigating interdisciplinary issues relating to privacy and data protection in the digital world. The aim is to find holistic solutions for innovative data protection. The BMBF is funding the project in its entirety for three years with 1.29 million €.

Project partners:

Further information can also be found on the BMBF website.

Project information

Federal Ministry of Education and Research

March 2024 - February 2027

Project leader:
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Christian Geminn

Paul C. Johannes