Radboud University: OpenWebSearch to promote Europe’s independence in web search

Radboud University and thirteen other European research centres will join forces to develop a new, open European infrastructure for web search. The OpenWebSearch.EU project will be contributing to Europe’s digital sovereignty as well as promote an open human-centred search engine market. The European Commission has now approved the project’s Horizon Europe funding of 8,5 million euros.

‘Free, open and unbiased access to information – we have lost these core principles in web search and urgently need to restore them. This is why we will create an open European infrastructure for internet search, based on European values and jurisdiction,’ says Michael Granitzer of University Passau and Open Search Foundation, project coordinator of OpenWebSearch.EU.

Making search more ethical
Over the next three years, the researchers will develop the core of a European Open Web Index (OWI) as a basis for a new Internet Search in Europe. In addition, the project will set the foundation for an open and extensible European Open Web Search and Analysis Infrastructure (OWSAI), based on Europe’s values, principles, legislation and standards.

At Radboud University, Arjen de Vries, Djoerd Hiemstra and others will be involved with the project. “We have joined forces at Radboud with the primary aim of our research to give people control over their information access needs,’ says de Vries, professor of information retrieval and research director of the Institute for Computing and Information Sciences at Radboud University. ‘We want to help people understand how their search results are produced, to reduce the influence of advertising in search, and, overall, to make search more ethical.’

Imbalance of the search engine market

The project has its origins in concerns over the imbalance of the search engine market. Despite being a backbone of our digital economy, web search is dominated and limited by a few gatekeepers like Google, Microsoft, Baidu or Yandex. Thus, information as a public good, with free, unbiased and transparent access is not under public control anymore. This imbalance endangers democracy and limits the innovative potential of Europe’s research landscape and economy.

OpenWebSearch.EU’s strong multi-disciplinary consortium of 14 European partners is convinced that “the open web search infrastructure will not only contribute to Europe’s sovereignty for navigating and searching the web. It will benefit us all as citizens. Based on our own preferences, we will finally have a real choice again when choosing search engines.” It’s the first project the EU has funded to get tomorrow’s web search up and running and will kick off in September 2022. The 14 partner institutions will initially cooperate over a time frame of three years.