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Plant trees while you search the web (ecosia.org)
125 points by nbrempel 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments

If you don't click on ads, or have an Adblocker installed, you generate no money for Ecosia. Thus, no trees get planted.

I think it's important to point this out, because in their marketing, they make it sound as if searching alone is enough. There's also this little counter in the upper right corner. 45 searches (on average) are required to plant a tree. Of course, only if you click on an ad.

You could even argue that you cause more environmental damage, because Ecosia is then just an unnecessary wrapper around Bing consuming energy (although it's probably not much).

Edit: Added second paragraph

Edit2: Source is their FAQ: https://ecosia.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/206019452-How-d...

> I think it's important to point this out, because in their marketing, they make it sound as if searching alone is enough.

Thank you for pointing that out. There is no point using it for search if you are using ad-blocking software.

Hmm? It's trivial to configure site-specific exceptions for any decent ad-blocker, no?

> There is no point using it for search if you are using ad-blocking software.

I'd disagree. The network effect can help. Acquaintances tend to be interested whenever they see me using any search engine that isn't Google.

Apparently the search queries are sent to bing, including ip addresses and the like. If it was more anonymized I would use it in a heartbeat

I mean, maybe this is obvious, but whenever you visit a site that derives revenue from ads with an adblocker installed, you generate no money for that site, and thus X doesn't get supported, where X might be journalism, services, or in this case planting trees.

Not sure about journalism, but aren’t ads usually pay-for-clicks and not pay-for-impressions? Hence, if you never click on ads, there is no benefit for a newspaper, but lots of tracking for you.

> If you don't click on ads, or have an Adblocker installed, you generate no money for Ecosia. Thus, no trees get planted.

Do you have a source/reference for this?

Sure, here you go: https://ecosia.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/206019452-How-d...

Like any other search engine, Ecosia earns money from clicks on the advertisements that appear above and beside the search results.

The advertisements on Ecosia are clearly labeled as Ads and are text links to websites that pay for each click by users. The ads are delivered to you by our partner Bing, who pays Ecosia a share of the revenue generated via these ads.

Ecosia earns a few cents for every click on an ad from Bing – or a portion of the purchase price made through an affiliate link. Ecosia then gives the profits from this ad revenue to planting projects.

We also make a small income on commission from our online store. All profits we receive go towards our projects – which means we can plant 20 trees every time we sell a t-shirt.

Somehow the math doesn't add up for me.

If these numbers are to be believed, planting a tree costs maybe 50 cents, max. I am....skeptical.

From the FAQ:

> It costs our tree planting partners about 0.22 EUR to plant a tree. 22 cents divided by 0.5 cents makes about 45 searches until we can plant one new tree.

This charity focuses on tree planting and this page has a breakdown on the costs a bit down the page: https://onetreeplanted.org/pages/about-us

When I planted trees I got around $0.25 per tree. Some of the other companies paid as low as $0.09.

Thank you for pointing this out! This changes how I think about Ecosia.

EDIT: grammar

Out of curiosity, how else were you thinking a search engine would be making money?

Maybe by impressions only. But I think these days are long gone.

What if I repeatedly click on ads by advertisers I dislike?

https://adnauseam.io/ is a tool for doing that. I wonder if it would make them money or be detected as fraud.

I suspect Google is much less conservative about ad fraud determinations than they lead the public to believe - It's in their financial interest to do as poorly as possible without damaging their reputation.

You probably make them money. But I don't know if they have some click fraud protection in play. I assume they do. But a click here and there probably works.

This really feels like greenwashing to me.

The purpose of ads is (1) to make you buy something you didn't need before the ad made you aware of it, or (2) to make you choose the advertised brand amongst competing brands when you buy a product comparable to the advertised one.

Runaway consumption is what has gotten us into this ecological mess in the first place.

Watching ads to replant trees just sounds very strange.

> Runaway consumption is what has gotten us into this ecological mess in the first place.

In part. If instead of almost 8 billion humans there were 4 billions we wouldn't be in this mess either.

> If instead of almost 8 billion humans there were 4 billions we wouldn't be in this mess either.

I'm not sure your logic follows. The US outputs roughly 13% of global CO2 emissions despite having 4% of the world population.

If the ratio of population to CO2 output was scaled in this case, 7.5 billion US citizens would output 118,000 Mt of CO2 per year. Halving that (to less than 4 billion humans) would be 59,000 Mt of CO2 per year, and the current global output is 37,000 Mt per year.

Half the population would produce half the emissions and consume half the resources considering the same emissions per capita per country and equivalent population density per country.

We cannot kill half of the population but we can consume half. We could avoid replacing phones every two years. We could eat less meat. We could avoid having so many cars.

Yes, they have too many cars, and also make stuff not enough durable. If you (and I) do not have any children then human population of future can be reduced hopefully; currently human population is too much but that is one way to reduce in future. There is some other way as well, I think (but, you should not just kill everyone (regardless of their species) just to reduce the population; only for self-defense or for food).

We could consume half, we could even impose laws controlling consumption of resources, natality, etc, but since these would be pretty unpopular no politician would consider that unless it's probably too late.

you cannot consume half. (not talking about phones) but if a human needs X food then he cant half it. you can replace with X with half Y and half Z but the logistics is the same.

The issue is overpopulation. You need a specific amount of resources to sustain that number. you cant half it without halfing the population

How do you explain that people in US produces 4 times the average CO2 emissions?

Surely you know what that first sentence sounds like :)

Global warming was first becoming convincing in the 1960s, when the world's population was well under 4.0e9, but industrialised nations were enjoying post-WW2 economic prosperity.

Humans generally follow the path of most comfort, not the difficult road guided by abstract ideas.

One also needs to be wary of tree planting as being necessarily altruistic. Nothing wrong with planting a tree of course, but many times they're planting a monoculture of financially viable & fast growing trees with the intent to log them in the future.

The forestry industry views forests as large scale gardening, and they spend big bucks to plant trees after they log an area. In many cases I think our good will is being hijacked to pay for something that they ought to cover.

I'd be much more interested in a program to plant a diversity of native trees in areas that are protected.

Failing that, I guess it's not the end of the world that we re-plant some logging company's patch, it just doesn't give me the same warm-fuzzies.

I believe they are donating the money to organizations that plant diverse native trees.

where is the market to implement otherwise ? people talked about "needing a micropayments model on the Internet" almost twenty years ago.. and continually since then


From their infographic, you can see that Ecosia donates 51.6% of its income to planting trees, the rest going to employee incomes, reserves, and "spreading the word".

You can save yourself the extra step and simply donate to the foundations that Ecosia donates money to:

edenprojects.org hommesetterro.com greenbeltmovement.org itpa.org.br

I don’t see why this is an either or situation. You could do both.

Their point is that you don't need to pay/donate money, only using their product for something you need anyway, ie. search, and generate funding for planting trees.

I used ecosia for a period of few months, and stopped when I read this their privacy policy(https://info.ecosia.org/privacy#privacy-policy-section-7):

> For example, when you do a search on Ecosia we forward the following information to our partner, Bing: IP address, user agent string, search term, and some settings like your country and language setting.

So when a search is done, our IP address is send to Bing.

I really love the idea of planting trees from profit, and have nothing against ecosia. Just commented to inform readers. <edit> Before getting downvoted into oblivion, I would like to make it clear that I'm not saying ecosia is unethical or that everyone should stop using it because of this. For some it matters, for some it doesn't and ecosia seems a great choice for those whom this doesn't matter. I'm just posting it so that those who do care(about their IP being send to Bing) can be aware(since I wasn't for a few months). </edit>

I'm a strong advocate for digital privacy and opposed to the majority of data collection that occurs, but this comment is FUD. None of the info that you listed would be private if you used Bing normally, so if you're worried about them having that info you'd need to stop using search engines all together

>So when a search is done, our IP address is send to Bing.

Explain why you believe that's a negative? If you use Bing normally they would know your IP as well

>user agent string

Again, using bing normally will allow them to see this information

>search term

Obviously required to be sent to bing

>some settings like your country and language setting

Again, this is information that would be available to Bing if you use their service normally

>Explain why you believe that's a negative? If you use Bing normally they would know your IP as well

I'm a bit uncomfortable in letting MicroSoft associate my IP with what I search daily. I use GitHub and Linkedin and most of the time I'm logged in to at least one of those services. Now I don't know for sure if Bing associates these searches to my account based on the IP(someone can shed some light on this?). StartPage and DuckDuckGo both use third party searches but they don't share user IP(https://support.startpage.com/index.php?/Knowledgebase/Artic...)

For other details like search term, country etc... I absolutely understand that they are needed to be send. I just quoted them as a sentence.

If it wasn't for the IP sharing, I would be a happy ecosia user :)

I definitely understand the desire to not have one's IP tied to their search history/browsing in some cases, but as this service makes no mention of being an anonymous or private search engine I don't think your critique is an actual issue with the service. Your use case simply doesn't match the purpose of this search engine

You're right, privacy is not their selling point. But they do have many phrases like "We don’t store your searches permanently" and "We don’t sell your data to advertisers" in their website, which are technically true but I misunderstood that they don't store my IP either because of those. I came across the text I quoted in the parent comment months later when I came across a thread in r/privacy and I passed it on. StartPage and DuckDuckGo still makes money from ads and doesn't share user IP. It would have been great if Ecosia functioned similarly, and in that case many people like me who are concerned about sharing IP with Bing(or other services) can join Ecosia for search.

DuckDuckGo also uses Bing and they don't send the IP AFAIK

AFAIK that is impossible

Definitely not impossible. Microsoft offers a pay-as-you-go Bing Search API (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/details/cognitive-...).

I can only assume ecosia share this data with Microsoft because doing so has allowed them to land a more lucrative deal.

I would assume they send the IP so that Bing will return location specific search results for weather, local businesses and such. I see no reason to assume malicious intent.

What’s stopping them from performing an offline IP location lookup and requesting location specific search results without sharing the IP with Microsoft?

I'm not sure if that is a feature that the Bing API supports. I couldn't find anything about looking up coordinates in the docs: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/cognitive-services/bi....

Yeah their documentation is dreadful, but they could just append loc:countryCode to the query before making the API request: e.g. ‘attractions loc:dk’.. at least that works for me despite some people mentioning this filter is no longer supported.

Not sure how DDG and other search engines that rely on Bing does it, but it’s certainly possible without sharing the users’ IP with Microsoft.

StartPage does it with Google and is explained here: https://support.startpage.com/index.php?/Knowledgebase/Artic...

So it is probably possible.

If anyone is wondering why they send Bing the IP address, it's most likely because the Bing API uses the searchers IP address if you want location specific search results like weather, local restaurants, etc.

> Results are customized to the location or market of the user. The location or market can be determined implicitly (via IP address) or configured explicitly.


> We don’t create personal profiles of you based on your search history. We actually anonymize all searches within one week.

> Many web services collect user data in order to sell it without asking your permission. We don’t sell your data or your searches to advertising companies.

> We protect your searches from potential eavesdroppers with a securely encrypted connection. This way we make sure that nobody between you and us can see your searches.

If they’re just handing everything off to Bing wholesale, are these quotes either misleading or straight up lies? The first one I’m confused about with the “anonymize all searches within one week”. I don’t know what that means. The second seems like Bing could still do those things. And the last one would be a lie considering Bing can see it.


You just need to read it differently ...

We don’t create personal profiles of you based on your search history. (but our partner Bing might)

We don’t sell your data or your searches to advertising companies. (but our partner Bing is and hands us a piece of the rewards)

I guess the responsibility is on the user to dig through the FAQ or privacy policy to discover they use Bing and then read between the lines?

It’s disingenuous and misleading to the average user. They should be criticized for it.

I absolutely agree that they should be criticized for it, or at least explain their deal with Bing. If one can trust Google not to create ad profiles from Google Analytics data, one can also trust Bing to not use ecosia data to build user profiles. But for that to be a trust decision, we'd need to know whether they actually have any such deal with Bing.

> And the last one would be a lie considering Bing can see it.

How would that be a lie. They protect from eavesdroppers, as in someone intercepting the connection and trying to extract data being transmitted within a system. Bing is part of the whole system, not a third party trying to eavesdrop. Finally, they say they don't allow anyone between you and them - which is different from allowing between them and a third party, but I'm sure they would use an encrypted connection even when communicating with Bing.

That’s true. I guess I jumped the gun on that one. However, “nobody between you and us” still feels disingenuous because you have to dig quite a bit to find out that they use Bing on the backend and then leave concluding that “us” also includes Microsoft as the responsibility of the user. The average user isn’t going to make that connection because they’re not likely to be reading through the privacy policy or digging through the FAQ to discover they use Bing.

I think their page touting “privacy” should clearly indicate that they use Bing and that your privacy is ultimately beholden to Microsoft, not Ecosia, especially since Ecosia is happy to send unique identifiers to Bing for personalized search results as default.

It feels like a deftly move to offload their own responsibility to then be able to tout privacy as a selling point because they themselves don’t do anything with your information, Microsoft does.

Their value proposition is planting trees and not privacy. They get a cut of the Bing ad revenues and a cut of that is invested in trees. Its a simple model. I learned about it 1-2 years ago and was expecting more of these ‘feel good’ labelled search engines.

Which search engine are you using now instead of Ecosia?

I'm much more comfortable to give some information to Microsoft then giving more information to Google so they can add it to my profile they already have.

I use DuckDuckGo and StartPage. StartPage uses Google's result without sharing user IP(https://support.startpage.com/index.php?/Knowledgebase/Artic...). I think ecosia can do something similar to that and I would be extremely glad to switch.

How is this different to using Bing as a search engine directly?

It is not. I've been using DuckDuckGo before switching to them, for me privacy is a big deal. When I first saw ecosia, I thought it was similar to DDG in terms of privacy(Probably because they had pro-privacy phrases).

I know it's not a problem for most, especially if they are using search engines like Bing or Google. And I believe it's better to use ecosia than using say, Bing or Google.

There isn't other than the planet benefits

I switched to Ecosia about a month ago. IMHO search result quality is at about 90 % to 95 % compared to Google. I believe Ecosia is using Bing in the background. They are planting trees and claim to respect my privacy. Overall I'm happy with Ecosia and started recommending it to friends.

PS. I'm German and do searches in German and English.

I'd rather just send $5 somewhere. If they earn a few cents per ad clicked, I'd have to click like 250 different ads in order to get to that $5.

Advertising spending is inversely correlated with product quality.

For 170k euors spent in salaries they are able to hire 39 people. Seems quite less from the US standard.

That value is per month, which would be roughly 2 million euros / year. An average of 50k euro / (person * year), seems pretty reasonable.

There was a recent article about planting the wrong kind of trees in Ireland [1]. What do we know about Ecosia’s tree-planting partners? It would be great to have more oversight over the tree-planting, maybe even let users have “voting” power (decide which tree-planting partner to benefit from the proceedings of your search results, kinda like how Humble Bundle let’s you choose which charity to give to).

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20380793

Previous discussion with interesting comments: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19324766

I remember there was a link on HN which had a list of sites similar to this which are greener in general (i.e. which plant trees, or which use only green energy like solar, etc). I've been searching for it but couldn't find it. If someone has it, can they post it ? Thanks!

7 million active users, 70 million trees... only 10 trees have been planted per user?

I like the idea but I wonder on average just how many searches it takes for one tree to be planted.

That might be a good deal or not. Search doesn't generate much profit per user (don't forget overhead). From that profit you need to buy trees - somewhere between $.10 to $50 each. Then you need land to plant them on, which can be expensive. Then you need to plant them and water them to ensure they grow - there is a lot of labor in this last one that needs to be paid somehow.

Of course you can cheat. Plant a tree that is dead, dig it up and replant it again and again. I doubt they are doing this, but it is something to watch for.

Is anyone verifying these claims?

I would like to know that too, because currently all sources on the Ecosia Wikipedia page are either self-published or primary, so the article reads like an ad. If this really is working and we can all truly combat deforestation and global warming by watching Ecosia's ads, I'd like to know.


Do users know where these tree they have planted are?

They say on average you need 45 searches to plant a tree.

Their own FAQ says that it takes about 45 searches to plant a tree. So at 10 trees / person, that's about 450 searches.

>We know that Ecosia earns an average of 0.5 cents (EUR) per search. It costs our tree planting partners about 0.22 EUR to plant a tree. 22 cents divided by 0.5 cents makes about 45 searches until we can plant one new tree. Depending on clicks on ads and how much search ad revenue these generate for Ecosia, it may take fewer searches. Think of it this way: we currently fund the planting of a new tree every second.

...how much profit do you think a search engine makes per user?

Way more than what Ecosia's managed so far. Others here have said they only earn from clicks though. Because they aren't selling user data on the side and they are a business with their own expenses, maybe this amount is as optimized as possible.

I just tried to use the search engine without Javascript and that's a really bad result. [1]

[1] https://imgur.com/a/ybtiAkk

I doubt they bother wasting their resources on optimizing for the 0.001% of people who have JS disabled.

Well I just tried this in my text-based browser on my Commodore 64 and it looks terrible

for sure you plant too, money on ecosia managers' pockets. "Adblock till the sun burns out"

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