Sick and tired of the tracking by the big search engines? Use these more private alternatives instead.
The big search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing don’t care about your privacy.
They log your search results, creating a dossier of your private (and sometimes sensitive) info and selling it to third parties – or even turning it over to the government. It’s even worse when you use these sites in conjunction with Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft’s email services.
Yet search engines are an integral part of our online lives, whether it’s conducting research or searching for local movie times.
So, what’s an Internet user to do?
Well, the best VPN services will keep your search history private no matter what search engine you’re using. Just remember to stay signed out of your online accounts when you do the search and to regularly clean your cookies.
But you can further protect yourself by using a privacy-oriented search engine in the first place. Here are our three top picks for the most private search engines around.
'Most Private Search Engines' Contents (select to expand)
Startpage – Best All-Around Private Search Engine
Startpage was already a great all-around choice for a private search engine. But with its updated UI and the hiring of PGP creator Phil Zimmermann, the Startpage team seems poised to be the fully-featured but private Google alternative that many people are looking for.
Startpage uses Google results, but they let you access your results via proxy, so the site you’re accessing can’t grab your IP address. And for their part, Startpage doesn’t record your search or personal data.
They also offer their own private email service, Startmail, and a Firefox extension to make Startpage your default search engine. Plus, they’re based in the Netherlands, which has favorable privacy laws and protections, especially compared to the US.
Startpage has even undergone third-party security auditing to verify their privacy claims.
Pros of Startpage
- User-friendly and well-supported
- Proxy searches
- No search history or personal data logs
- Independently audited
- Google search results
- Non-targeted ads
- Private email service
Cons of Startpage
- Uses some first party US servers (but you can choose non-US or non-EU servers)
- No map search functionality
- Image search and results need work
searX – Maximum Privacy Search Engine
searX is a private search engine that brings some interesting things to the mix, which you won't find in either of its competitors on this list.
Firstly, searX draws its results from multiple search engines, including Google, Yahoo, Bing, and even Wikipedia, as well as other private search engines, like Startpage, DuckDuckGo, and Qwant. In SearX’s preferences, you can choose exactly which engines it uses (and doesn’t use).
Secondly, searX is open source and has different versions available. You can use the official version at https://searx.me/, or choose from one of more than a dozen public instances hosted by volunteers. Plus – and this is a big one – you can host your own version. A self-hosted searX version means you can be sure that you’re not being logged.
Like Startpage, searX also offers proxy searches. But unlike its competitors, searX has no ads, neither targeted nor non-targeted.
In short, using searX is slightly more complicated than Startpage or DuckDuckGo, but it can’t be beat in terms of privacy, control, and even search results.
Pros of searchx
- Open source
- Can host your own instance (self-hosted search)
- No search or personal data logs
- No ads
- Metasearch approach (results from multiple, customizable search engines)
- Proxy search
Cons of searchx
- Less accountability for non-logging on public versions
- Slightly less user-friendly
- Not supported as a default search engine for most browsers
- No browser extension
DuckDuckGo – Most Popular Private Search Engine
And DuckDuckGo definitely has some neat features, like “bangs”. This allows you to search other sites directly from DuckDuckGo using a text string like !a (which searches Amazon), followed by your search terms. You can even search through Startpage with !s.
DuckDuckGo can easily be set as the default search engine in most web browsers and even has a neat privacy extension of its own that does things like rate the privacy of sites that you visit.
Unfortunately, there are some privacy concerns with DuckDuckGo. For starters, they’ve had a long-standing partnership with Yahoo, who was caught delivering users’ private email data to the NSA. The DuckDuckGo team has tried to claim the Yahoo agreement isn’t a privacy concern, but it’s hard to ignore.
“We also save searches, but again, not in a personally identifiable way, as we do not store IP addresses or unique User agent strings. We use aggregate, non-personal search data to improve things like misspellings.”
And DuckDuckGo – and the Amazon servers it uses – are based in the US, which doesn’t have a great privacy record.
Pros of DuckDuckGo
- User-friendly and well-supported
- Can be set as default browser for Firefox, Chrome, Brave, Opera, and other browsers
- Bangs let you search other sites indirectly
- Solid search results
- Non-targeted ads
- Privacy extension for Firefox
Cons of DuckDuckGo
- Saves some search data
- Yahoo partnership and Amazon servers
- Based in the US
- Search results not as good as Google
Whether you use one, two or all three of these more privacy-oriented search engines, you’ll be much better off then using one of the major search engines, like Google.
In fact, along with a trustworthy VPN service, using a more privacy-focused search engine is one of the easiest ways you can better protect your privacy online.