For the past several years, online privacy has been a prominent theme. Google, in particular, dominates almost all aspects of the Internet, which considering its business model, isn’t compatible with user privacy. As such, many are looking for Google alternatives, especially when it comes to search engines.
In this article, we discuss some of the best search engines that focus on privacy first and foremost. Before this, we also discuss why you’d want to choose a more private search engine in the first place.
Why You Should Choose a More Private Search Engine
When it comes to search engine usage, Google dominates. In fact, it’s not just in search, but for browser usage, cloud-based desktop publishing, and much more. However, Google’s business model doesn’t put your privacy or data first.
Google thrives on monetizing the data of its users to turn a profit. As the saying goes, “Free often doesn’t mean free.” In other words, you are the product. This has bled into more mainstream users’ thoughts, and now there is a groundswell of opposition to Google’s preferred business practices.
Let’s take a look at the search engines that are focused on privacy. They are not presented in any certain order, so feel free to jump around and investigate those that catch your eye.
Probably the most famous of the privacy-focused search engines, DuckDuckGo is the poster child of privacy. In fact, DuckDuckGo offers a private search engine, tracker blocker, and mobile browser to help keep your online data safe and private.
DuckDuckGo doesn’t track any of your search history. Furthermore, it does not collect or share personal information of any kind, making it one of the most privacy-friendly search engines.
DuckDuckGo’s search results are collated from a number of sources and its own DuckDuckBot crawler. However, this shouldn’t have any privacy implications, as your data isn’t passed to third parties. Even so, keep in mind that clicking links to external sources, such as YouTube videos in search, will obviously be out of DuckDuckGo’s control.
To generate income, DuckDuckGo uses ads and affiliate-linking to sites such as Amazon, but all ads are clearly demarcated. What’s more, the affiliate linking doesn’t contain any personal info, so your search results are safe.
If you really need to access Google search results, the best choice is StartPage. StartPage has the benefit of replicating Google’s search results by sending your searches to Google, then displaying the results for you. Google doesn’t know it was you – all it knows is that StartPage requested the information, which doesn’t tie back to you in any way.
StartPage’s commitment to privacy doesn’t stop there, though. The Anonymous View option lets you search by proxy, so even your browsing within websites won’t be tracked. Or, as StartPage says, you can browse websites “without a trace.”
In a testament to their seriousness about keeping your data private, StartPage even removed Yahoo from its search results when it was unveiled that the company had willingly helped the NSA snoop on Yahoo account holders. Good on you, StartPage!
Searx is an open-source “metasearch” engine run by volunteers, so there are no ads, affiliate links, or any other “trackable” elements.
Unlike many of the other search engines on this list, searx is self-hosted, and developers encourage users to run their own servers. But even if you don’t, you still have many options (called instances) to choose from. Each instance also gets a rating, and you can view the data regarding security and response times for each one.
The look of the search results page is functional, but you aren’t going to get the same quality of results as other search engines. However, it’s private, free, and worth your time if you’re a “Do-It-Yourself” app builder.
Qwant is a French company that provides privacy and style at the same time. We’d argue that it’s the better looking choice among search engines, although its privacy is what put it on our radar.
Like the other search engines on this list, Qwant promises to not track your searches or sell your personal data. It also doesn’t run advertising cookies and even offers a privacy extension for Chrome. However, the business model is built around ads and affiliate linking, using the Bing ads network. In our tests, we even saw ads for Google products and services, which somewhat goes against the “spirit” of the whole private browsing movement.
It uses its own indexing to provide search results but also takes advantage of Bing in some cases. The results display as one would expect, and we can confirm they are quite solid. Also, for parents who want to keep their kids safe online, Qwant also offers a kid-friendly search engine, which is a unique feature to say the least.
As usual, the Swiss remain a neutral territory with Swisscows, a data-safe search engine for the whole family.
Swisscows also uses its own search index. The company says its services are the result of “years of technology expertise.” When you search, you can also preview each result anonymously before jumping to the webpage, which helps protect you even more.
If you’re looking for a free, fully-transparent search engine that focuses on private browsing and avoiding censorship, you’ll want to give MetaGer a spin. Its run by a non-profit and has no desire to make financial gain off your data.
With MetaGer, you get a fully uncensored search engine that combines the results from 50 of the largest search engines. It uses an algorithm that is openly available for anyone to see and claims to be one of the best metasearch engines for that very reason.
Although the way MetaGer works is absolutely an advantage, the privacy settings are also very important. MetaGer encrypts all of its connections through an anonymizing proxy. Additionally, MetaGer is compatible with the Tor network, meaning you can access your search results anonymously.
However, if you read the privacy terms carefully, you will see that MetaGer stores your IP address and related data for up to 96 hours at a time. They say this is to limit overuse and claim to not sell any data collected.
Sure, having a private search engine hosted by a non-profit is cool, but what if that non-profit also offers to plant trees and care for the environment? If that sounds too good to be true, then you haven’t met Ecosia.
Ecosia is a search engine that pledges to not store or sell user data. It encrypts all searches and doesn’t profile users based on their search history. Ecosia also doesn’t use any sort of tracking tools.
It’s an ecologically-minded search engine that donates 80 percent of its ad profits to reforestation efforts across the globe. The company is also dedicated to cutting down on CO2 output and believes in equality and social justice.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do private search engines work?
Some private search engines crawl websites and gather information to generate answers. Others, known as meta-search or proxy search engines, work as a bridge between the main search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) and you. In both cases, these private search engines do not store or sell your data.
Does Google's Incognito mode work like the private search engines on this list?
No, not exactly. Even in Incognito mode, Google still uses your data and tracks your browsing habits for its own purposes. Incognito mode simply ensures the data you enter isn’t stored in your browser history, so others who share the same devices cannot see it.
How can I perform searches on Google without compromising my personal information?
Although there’s no way to ensure that Google doesn’t catch any data, you can try searching while signed out of Chrome, in Incognito mode, and while using a VPN.
Image Credit: EVG Kowalievska via Pexels
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