What Is the Best Search Engine for Privacy?

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Privacy has, for the past several years, been a particularly prominent theme in the online community, and it looks like it’s about to get a whole lot bigger with the recent news that the Senate has overturned the FCC’s ruling that prevented ISPs from sharing or selling data about their customers’ browsing habits without explicit permission.

This is bad news for anyone who values their privacy and joins the massive personal information that we already yield to third-party companies under nebulous circumstances. Privacy-focused search engines like StartPage, SearX and DuckDuckGo are a good starting point for keeping your personal data private where possible, but which one does the best job?


My personal pick for its balance of high-quality searches and respect for privacy, StartPage has the benefit of replicating Google’s search results by sending your searches to Google, then returning them to display 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 also uses top-end SSL encryption and doesn’t use cookies or keep track of IP addresses or searches. It searches with all the power of Google but without the intrusiveness. One of my favorite features is the option to let you search by proxy, so even your browsing within websites can’t be tracked when you visit them.


In a testament to their seriousness about keeping your data private, StartPage even removed Yahoo from their search results when it was unveiled that the company had willingly helped the NSA snoop on Yahoo account holders. Good on you, StartPage!


Probably the most famous of the privacy-focused search engines (it does, after all, have a cute duck as its mascot), DuckDuckGo is a poster child of privacy. Its search results are, marginally, the fastest of all the private search engines, although it should be noted that it sources its searches from Yahoo. That shouldn’t have any privacy implications, as Yahoo doesn’t have access to individual users’  DuckDuckGo searches (though their history with the NSA makes them hard to trust). Many people, however, feel that Yahoo isn’t as good as Google at yielding search results.


Like StartPage, DuckDuckGo makes revenue using ads and affiliate-linking to sites like Amazon, but all ads are clearly demarcated, and the affiliate linking doesn’t contain any personal info, so your search results are safe.


What’s instantly likable about SearX is the fact that it’s open-source, therefore run by volunteers with absolutely no interests in profit – that means no ads, affiliate nonsense, or any such things that you might not feel comfortable with.


While SearX’s official public version has all the privacy-friendly bells and whistles of others on this list, it encourages Debian/Ubuntu users to create their own instance of the search engine where you have complete control over how it performs searches and therefore complete control over your privacy. It’s a bit of a fiddly process, but if you fancy giving it a go then here are the instructions.

Disconnect Search

If you don’t want to give up the “home comforts” of familiar and undeniably useful search engines like Bing and Yahoo (Google’s not included here), then you might want to give Disconnect a try. You need to grab the extension first. Once you’ve done that, click the extension, select the search engine that you wish to use, type your query, and Disconnect will do the search on your behalf and take you to the results on that search engine’s page.


This one’s great for individual searches, though once you’re on the search engine’s page, any subsequent searching you do there will once again be trackable, so it’s not quite as robust as the others.


The lesson here is that there are different search engines for varying degrees of privacy. For pure, hardcore privacy, creating your own instance of SearX is your best bet, but this could prove difficult for many people, and you’d be sacrificing the feature-richness of DuckDuckGo and StartPage. Then there’s Disconnect, which sits as an extension in your browser and is useful to have sitting there alongside whatever other search engine you use.

My vote, based on my needs, goes to StartPage, as it’s the closest Google replicant in terms of presentation while offering the same levels of privacy as its peers. (The option to go onto actual sites via a proxy is also a feature I find particularly useful on a day-to-day basis.)

Robert Zak Robert Zak

Content Manager at Make Tech Easier. Enjoys Android, Windows, and tinkering with retro console emulation to breaking point.


  1. My default is also startpage – for the same reasons. The problem is the increasing censorship Google employs and duckduckgo does a better job of delivering alternative results. This makes it my number 2, which I use on occasion.

    I am a little confused about your disconnect summary. Couldn’t you access it as: search.disconnect.me directly without the need of an extension? Ok… just double-checked. It seems you need the extension to search bing/yahoo. Directly accessing the URL will only search DDG. Still it makes a nice DDG front-end (much clearer results).

  2. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Robert!

    The free proxy link delivered with every StartPage.com search result is terrific. Using the proxy option not only blocks ISP spying, it prevents websites and marketers from siphoning user information, too. Personal information fuels profiling and the targeted advertising that stalks consumers across the Internet.

    Note that Edward Snowden likes StartPage no-logging privacy, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_RnBX3l124

  3. Hi Robert – You got the two most important private meta search engines listed – there is a couple of notable alternatives that is not on your list. Qwant and findx aer two European alternatives – read a bit more about them here compared to Startpage and DuckDuckGo https://dataethics.eu/en/list-of-private-search-engines/

    full disclosure: I work at https://www.findx.com ;-) – which like searx is open source.

  4. I was wondering how DuckDuckGo came in the list ?

    It even tracked your location as UK, https://www.maketecheasier.com/assets/uploads/2017/03/best-search-engine-for-privacy-duckduckgo.png

    As per this article here https://www.techwibe.com/search-engine-anonymous/ “DuckDuckGo : Now automatically find your location, if you are connected via VPN their server country will be show. Moreover its a US based company”

  5. “Searx” is my favorite one. Thanks to this -> https://veerendra2.github.io/searx-with-dnscrypt/ , I can run the “Searx” search engine in my laptop

  6. I use https://SearchEncrypt.com … it’s pretty similar to DDG or StartPage, but it has a browser extension that I use too. Good article though! Private search engines are super popular, and probably will continue to grow in 2018.

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