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Google, Yahoo! and Bing are, without a doubt, the world’s three most popular search engines.
And it’s for a good reason too; they’re versatile, convenient and powerful tools. Most importantly, they’re free for all to use. Except that there is a cost, but it’s a subtle one. The truth is, whenever you click on that “Search” button, you’re giving away your right to privacy.
Nowadays, it’s hardly a secret that those three (most of all Google, which has the largest user base) collect information about us. This information can range from our search queries (what we searched for), our computer’s (or phone’s) IP addresses and what web browsers we use to far more sensitive details, like our home addresses and phone numbers.
What do Google, Yahoo! and Bing need this sort of information for? In most cases, it’s so that they can sell it to advertisers. Knowing what people search for allows companies to better target ads at those people. However, the three have also been known to sell the data they collect to polling groups and think tanks. If all of that sounds a bit intrusive, that’s because it is. However, we can choose to stop trading away our privacy. There are a number of search engines outside of the “Big Three” that don’t keep a record of what we search for, who we are or anything of that sort. If you value your privacy, this article on the world’s best private search engines is for you.
NOTE: Increase security by encrypting your traffic with a VPN. See our list of recommended VPN-services.
1. Best Private Search Engines in 2021
Created by a Dutch company, StartPage was originally meant to be the “twin” of Ixquick, another alternative search engine.But, StartPage quickly outgrew Ixquick because of its catchier name and the fact that it makes use of Google’s search results instead of procuring its own. Because of that, StartPage offers the world’s most extensive index of search results (that is to say, Google’s), but serves it in a privacy-oriented package.
Not only does StartPage not record our search queries or IP addresses, but it offers other privacy-enhancing features too. That includes a proxy, which allows us to visit the websites we searched for without giving away our locations or other sensitive details. StartPage also allows us to opt out of cookies, which is a major way websites (and search engines like Google) can track us. As if that wasn’t enough, because StartPage is owned by a European company, it falls under Europe’s strict privacy laws. That means that Internet service providers and the authorities can’t just prowl through their records at will.
DuckDuckGo is the world’s most popular and widely-known private search engine. Unlike Google, Yahoo! or Bing, DuckDuckGo doesn’t keep records of the people who use it. It also still manages to offer a lot as a search engine, using results from hundreds of sources (including Wikipedia, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex).
Instead of relying on selling advertisers our data, DuckDuckGo keeps itself afloat through ads that appear at the top of search result pages. Thankfully, the ads aren’t intrusive and don’t obstruct any of DuckDuckGo’s features. In fact, Google also uses these types of ads and calls them “promoted results.” That said, DuckDuckGo has one serious flaw. While it doesn’t keep a record of who uses it, when or where from, it does save search queries. The difference is that Google, Yahoo! and Bing also find ways to tie that data back to you, whereas DuckDuckGo saves it anonymously. DuckDuckGo’s explanation for this is that it uses non-personal search data to improve its search results.
Qwant is a fairly new search engine, created and run by a French company. Like StartPage and DuckDuckGo, Qwant is a privacy-centered search engine.
It avoids cookies, which websites and search engines often use to track us. Instead, it gives each user a unique ID and only ties very basic user preferences (such as language, filter and search settings, etc.) to it. Qwant doesn’t save its users’ search queries, nor does it sell any of the information it records to advertisers or other third parties. Its revenue comes from ads and affiliate links, which are akin to the ones Google and DuckDuckGo have. Like StartPage, Qwant is a European company and follows European privacy laws, which are widely thought of as the strictest in the world. Qwant tries to purvey its own search results, but given that they lack the resources of a corporation like Google or Yahoo!, they have now partnered with Bing to offer you their extensive index as well.
Searx is one of the few open-source search engines in the world. What that means is that its code is freely available for anyone to look at and change to their liking.
Because of its dedicated community, Searx can always be improved, and changes can come far faster than at Google or any other closed-source search engine. Searx is also unique in that it’s a “metasearch” engine. Unlike DuckDuckGo or Qwant, Searx doesn’t rely on just the search results it indexes on its own. Instead, it runs your search queries through a number of different search engines, including Google, Yahoo!, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Qwant, and others. While its search results aren’t tailored, Searx doesn’t record its users’ search queries or other info. It doesn’t share any of its users’ data with advertisers or other individuals/groups either. Lastly, a unique mechanism allows you to conduct searches on Searx without having the search results pages appear in your browsing history. Searx is also available through the popular proxy service Tor.
Oscobo is another private search engine, one owned and run by a UK-based company.
Like Google, DuckDuckGo and Qwant, Oscobo makes use of sponsored links on search results pages to fund itself. While Oscobo is currently focused on catering to its UK user base, it is expected that its owners will soon set their sights on the rest of Europe, which should result in more language options and less UK-specific ads and search results.
Then, it stores the results in a database (index). This gets shared to other YaCy peers through P2P networks. Ultimately, anyone can use this search engine to build a search portal for the intranet. That also helps others search the internet clearly.
While other search engines offer a semi-distributed setup, YaCy is decentralized. Therefore, each YaCy peer is equal, and there is no central service. It can run itself in crawling mode or be a local proxy service to index web pages visited by each person who runs YaCy on the computer.
However, there are various security measures in place to protect the person’s privacy. Therefore, no one can steal personal data and sell or use it illegally. Any protected pages (cookies and passwords) are excluded from the index. With that, any pages loaded with POST or GET parameters aren’t indexed. Only what is publicly accessible and not password protected is indexed.
You gain access to the search function through a web server run locally. That gives you the search box you need to enter the term and returns the results just like other popular engines. It doesn’t contain ads.
Mojeek classifies itself as an alternative search engine designed to put the users first. It is based out of the United Kingdom, has no tracking, and uses the web crawler technology, as do various popular search engines.
Its goal is to respect your privacy, do what’s right, and offer unbiased and unique search results. With that, the search engine doesn’t follow you around. Mojeek doesn’t take into account your search history and then bombard you with supposedly relevant ads. On top of that, it doesn’t share your information with third parties, so you don’t have to deal with aggravating cold calls and emails.
With that, Mojeek is hosted from a green data center in the UK and runs from there. It uses fewer resources to keep you informed.
There have been a few debates about Mojeek in the past. Some government officials claim that it manipulates the search results of Google and treats sponsored and paid results as poor-quality. However, most people want a private search engine to get away from the advertisements, and Mojeek does a good job of that.
Swisscows was launched in 2014 and was a project for Hulbee AG – a company located in Egnach, Switzerland. It primarily uses semantic data recognition to offer quicker answers to questions.
Because it doesn’t store your data, it can’t track it. The search engine’s goal is to respect your privacy, so you are completely anonymous as you search.
Its founders take this very seriously. That’s why it has its own servers and doesn’t work with a third party; it’s not hosted in the cloud. The data center is in the Swiss Alps, which is dubbed the safest bunker in the world. With that, everything is geographically positioned outside of the US and EU.
A unique attribute of Swisscows is that it claims to be family-friendly. The founders believe that children are big internet consumers. Therefore, the search engine promotes moral values and digital media education by not showing anything pornographic or violent.
However, some people worry that this takes away from a person’s right to search for anything anonymously. Regardless, there have been over 20 million searches a month since 2018. Similarly, the company that founded Swisscows launched its own secure instant messenger in 2021.
Since it can’t track or store your data, Swisscows doesn’t show advertisements or sponsored results. You can be sure that the information you receive is based solely on answering your question.
MetaGer has many characteristics that make a favorite private search engine. It lets you access knowledge with no dictation or control by the state or government entities. With that, it doesn’t store any private data, so you have the highest privacy there is. Privacy protection happens because of the encrypted connection. The Tor Hidden Service also ensures that users are shielded from view. Plus, people can open the result pages anonymously through the hidden-tor-branch technology and an anonymous proxy.
Even though it’s private and doesn’t store or track your location, it does offer geographical and route-planning searches.
This search engine doesn’t run sponsored ads and is not profit-driven. It gets money through charity donations and doesn’t want to enrich the owners with your data or clicks.
Along with that, MetaGer is a metasearch engine. It queries the top 50 search engines out there to give you the most variety in your results. The technology it uses doesn’t focus on the most clicked-on results. Therefore, you don’t see mainstream information and can get the unique answers you want and crave.
MetaGer is based out of Germany and is hosted as a co-op between the University of Hannover and the NGO Suma-Ev. It features 24 small web crawlers that are all under MetaGer’s control. Therefore, no one else has access to the crawlers to potentially steal information or leak it.
It also displays ads that it thinks you might like based on your search queries.
Peekier does things differently. For one, it doesn’t place any cookies for you and doesn’t save the IP address and other identifying information. The search results you receive are primarily taken from Bing, so you can think of it as a real alternative to Google.
With that, this search engine doesn’t save the search terms or gather a history. Still, the results are stored for service purposes to help other users find the same information later. Regardless, that information isn’t assigned to a specific user.
Data protection extends to the results page. You can see a preview of the websites to determine if they are worth your time. This is beneficial because you’re not spreading private information across many websites.
On top of it all, you can click the preview to see an overlay of the content. The links are all deactivated, so you can’t accidentally jump to a site you didn’t want to visit.
The search engine also protects search query leakage from happening. Any websites you choose to visit from Peekier only know that the link was clicked on but not what you searched for.
With everything else going for it, Peekier doesn’t contain ads, so the results are completely unbiased.
Many people want to do more for the environment, and searching for information could be the way to do that. Ecosia is a Berlin-based search engine that donates about 80 percent of its profits to reforestation efforts. It calls itself a social business and supports financial transparency while protecting its users’ privacy.
As of July of 2021, it claims it has planted over 130 million trees.
Originally, this search engine was launched to offer different results from Bing, Wikipedia, and Yahoo! It contained ads but moved to only providing Bing results from 2017 onwards.
Even though it doesn’t provide Yahoo advertisements any longer, it does show ads next to the search results. If a user clicks on a sponsored link, the partners of the search engine pay money.
One Ecosia search can raise about 0.005 EUR on average. It takes roughly 0.22 Euros to plant a tree.
Since it takes customers away from Microsoft and Google, it pays Microsoft a small fee. That way, it can keep its infrastructure investment and use Bing’s results.
Do you hate the ads on Google and social media asking you to buy things you’ve already purchased? That can’t happen with Gibiru. It doesn’t log any of your searches, can’t put cookies on the device, and doesn’t save your IP address. Therefore, it doesn’t have data to sell for retargeting purposes.
However, Gibiru is a for-profit search engine. It generates its revenue on commissions. When you use the tool and buy something because of it, it takes a commission from the company. However, it doesn’t sell your political interests, hobbies, or search logs.
Gibiru isn’t just a search engine. It also offers a VPN (virtual private network). That way, you can hide your location and prevent websites from spying on you. Though it provides encryption through its search engine, you get higher standards with a VPN.
If that’s not enough, Gibiru offers the Wormhole mobile app. It’s a browser-less application that lets you surf the internet anonymously without leaving a record of the sites you visit or the searches you perform. Any website you want to go to is viewed right through the app for added protection.
Primarily, this is an anti-censorship search engine. It shows you all of the results, even the censored ones that Google hides. A few years ago, Google got in trouble for limiting the ability to access politically sensitive sites and favoring websites associated with its major contributors. Gibiru doesn’t do that.
However, it does show sponsored ads at the top of the results page, just like Google and other websites.
Yippy is a metasearch engine that puts the search results into clusters that can easily be digested. Originally, it was called Clusty, but was acquired by IBM and sold to Yippy, Inc. in 2010.
It claims that you can index all data sources and documents with the powerful crawlers and API system it uses. This leads you to offer a unique experience to the end-user. With that, you have enterprise-level security.
Since it’s part of the IBM world, it features the same power through a license from the company. Therefore, you can use Yippy Search Appliance to leverage appropriate software and not anything that’s open-source.
It’s unclear of the security features it offers, as the company only states that they were developed internally. However, Yippy does claim to use ACLs, SSO, and ActiveDirectory.
With Yippy, the goal is to find insight technologies related to data. It is designed to take over the Google Search Appliance, so it’s considered by some to be a niche industry.
You must pay to use Yippy, so it’s unknown if there are any advertisements within the search results.
Disconnect Search feels that the internet is under scrutiny. Big search engine conglomerates are controlling and accessing the personal data of their users, which makes it easier for criminals and companies to get that information.
However, Disconnect Search feels that people need the freedom they crave to search for information and get every result without anyone knowing about it.
With this partly open-source browser extension, you can stop third-party trackers and have a more private web browsing experience. It’s also available for mobile (iPhone and Android).
It doesn’t collect personal information (including IP addresses), and it doesn’t sell any personal information. However, Disconnect Search does detect geo-location information to optimize its services. Still, it can’t tell who is using its search engine or where they are located.
You should be aware that Disconnect.me sells products. If you choose to buy them, you may receive emails from the company. It also collects information about operating systems and links clicked, while using a first-part browser cookie to remember your search preferences.
With all that said, Disconnect Search does use sponsored ads.
2. Tips for a More Private Web
While switching to a private search engine is the best (and, in a lot of ways, the toughest) first step in taking back the reins of our privacy, there are other tips we feel should be mentioned here. After all, we don’t spend all of our time on Google, Yahoo! or Bing. And let’s not be fooled — these three aren’t the only ones that keep records of our activities and sell them to advertisers later on. Alongside them are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Amazon, just to name a few.
Here are a few ways we can strengthen our privacy:
- Avoid popular services like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Dropbox. It’s no coincidence that whenever we hear about a privacy scandal in the news, chances are it involves either Google or Facebook. The two have a notoriously bad track record of keeping their users’ data safe. However, they’re not alone – Twitter, Amazon, and Dropbox also openly admit to selling the data they collect to advertisers and other bidders.
- Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or proxy. While it’s hard to find a decent VPN for free, many will agree that it pays for itself. Not only are today’s VPNs faster than they ever were before, but they offer a lot of nifty features. A VPN isn’t just useful for our privacy. For example, it can also let us access location-restricted content (such as on Netflix, for example).
- Use anti-tracking software and add-ons. Most web browsers (including Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer) have a “do not track” feature, which tells websites not to track us. However, as an extra layer of protection, browser add-ons like Ghostery allow us to see and block trackers before they can run. Ghostery is cross-platform and is available for most web browsers on PC, Android, and iPhone.