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.
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.
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.
Along with not recording its users’ search queries or other data, Oscobo takes it a step further and encrypts its communication with all of its users. As a result, not even your Internet service provider can peer into your search history.
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.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the best private search engines!