Many popular search engines, including Google, collect and sell your data for a profit. If you’re fed up with this violation of your privacy, it might be time to switch to an alternative. After assessing several options, we settled on these top private search engines:
- Startpage: world’s first private search engine
- DuckDuckGo: popular private search engine with Google-like features
- Qwant: private meta-search engine available in 26 languages
- Swisscows: anonymous search engine that lets you preview pages
- Searx: privacy-respecting, meta-search engine
- Ecosia: private search engine built to support climate action
- Wolfram Alpha: search engine for academic and learning-related queries
Using a private search engine helps to protect your privacy and ensure you’re not tracked online. But even the best private search engines can’t guarantee complete anonymity online. We recommend that you also use a privacy-friendly browser, a VPN like Private Internet Access (PIA), an ad blocker, and an anti-tracker extension.
Google is a big part of the internet culture, and it’s hard to imagine a world without it. The influence of this search engine runs so deep that “google” was officially added to Webster’s Dictionary in 2006 as a transitive verb. Despite its widespread appeal, Google is not a perfect search engine.
Google and many other search engines track users extensively and monetize your data through advertising. Your data is worth a lot to them. Thankfully, there are some search engines that value privacy.
This article will explain how companies like Google use your data and why this is bad for your privacy. We will also tell you about the best private search engines.
The Best Private Search Engines
It may feel like Google is the only search engine around, but there are many alternatives that put your privacy first. We highlight some of the best private search engines below. These search engines also show more organic results without filtering out anything based on your profile.
Startpage is a privacy-friendly search engine launched in 2006. Its website says it is “the world’s first and most private search engine.” Based in The Hague, the Netherlands, Startpage’s data handling practices conform to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other European privacy laws.
Startpage allows users to access Google Search results without the trackers and logs. There are also no personalized advertisements. This also means that Google’s “echo chamber” — where search results are filtered based on your personality and opinions — doesn’t apply when you access Google Search results via Startpage.
In 2019, Startpage won the Dutch Privacy Awards. The US-based marketing company System1 partially acquired Startpage in the same year, and there were concerns that the search engine would be compelled to walk back on its pro-privacy stance. However, Startpage insists it would never compromise its users’ privacy.
DuckDuckGo is quite popular. It is arguably the best alternative search engine to Google that prioritizes users’ privacy.
DuckDuckGo is based in Pennsylvania, US, and was launched in 2008. This search engine has many extra features, not unlike Google. You can search for images, videos, and news. You can also easily find recipes and access the weather forecast without clicking on anything.
DuckDuckGo’s search results combine information from hundreds of sources, including Bing, Yandex, Yahoo!, and many others. The company’s web crawler — the DuckDuckBot — ensures search results are up-to-date.
DuckDuckGo routes users’ traffic through the Tor network, which makes it much harder for anyone to trace your searches back to you. DuckDuckGo’s browsers and browser extensions also block trackers and help users escape the filter bubble of search engines.
Qwant is a meta-search engine founded in 2013 and based in Paris, France.
Qwant’s homepage displays recent news, trending personalities, and other social trends. This information is constantly updated and allows you to catch up on what is happening in the world at a glance.
Qwant says it does not log your searches or use your personal information for marketing or other purposes. It also only shows you neutral results that aren’t tailored to fit your interests.
Qwant is available in 26 languages. Apart from its search engine, Qwant offers other services. There is Qwant Music, where you can find music, and Qwant Maps, a more anonymous version of Google Maps.
Swisscows is an anonymous search engine launched in 2014 and based in Egnach, Switzerland.
Swisscows doesn’t collect any IP addresses or other personal information. It also doesn’t analyze users’ search behavior or use tracking cookies. The only information it logs is the number of daily searches, which allows Swisscows to measure the total amount of traffic on its website.
You can search for websites, images, videos, and music on Swisscows. Swisscows doesn’t just list your search results but lets you preview the listed pages before visiting them. It also has an online translator, but sadly, it isn’t as accurate as other translation tools.
Searx is a “privacy-respecting metasearch engine” launched in 2014.
Like many others on this list, it uses the search results of other popular search engines. The results on searx are from search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! These results are not personalized since searx doesn’t create user profiles and doesn’t share information with third parties.
A downside to searx is that other search engines like Google often block it. If that happens, you will see an error stating that it could not receive results from a particular search engine. This means you’ll get a limited number of search results.
Searx is open source and offers its code free of charge. This means anyone can contribute to improve the code. The search engine is run by volunteers.
Since the searx code is publicly available, anyone can host and run it. And searx supports this. They claim that the more decentralized the internet becomes, the better it gets.
In 2021, a “fork” of the searx project was launched, named SearXNG. While they’re similar, SearXNG is recommended for people who are “willing to give up some privacy respecting features.”
Ecosia is a private search engine dedicated to climate action. About 80 percent of its revenue goes into planting trees.
Launched in Berlin, German, in 2009, this “ecological search engine” works with charities all around the world to combat climate change and the effects of deforestation.
Ecosia is a non-profit organization; all its profits go into its tree-planting campaign. Ecosia primarily makes its profit through advertising, so ads are part of the search experience. The company publishes monthly financial reports detailing its income and how its money is spent.
Ecosia is also big on privacy. The company claims it doesn’t store searches permanently or create personal profiles. It also doesn’t share your data with advertisers or use external tracking tools. Your search results are also encrypted.
This doesn’t mean that they don’t collect any personal data. Ecosia says your search results are anonymized, but only after a week.
Ecosia isn’t the best option for privacy, but it is a good choice if you want to support a charity. There are other search engines with a similar concept, such as Givero and Ekoru.
7. Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha is not your typical search engine. It is a “computational knowledge engine” launched in 2009. This private search engine caters specifically to academic or learning-related queries.
For instance, you can use Wolfram Alpha to solve maths problems and get insight into scientific concepts. It provides information on subjects such as Maths, Science and Technology, Society and Culture, and Everyday Life.
Wolfram Alpha is built on artificial intelligence (AI) technology and over 30 years of research and development. It uses a combination of natural language processing, algorithmic computation, and visual computation to deliver precise and accurate results to users.
The Pro version of Wolfram Alpha comes with data visualization and other features. Wolfram makes money through subscriptions, and does not need to sell user data for revenue.
Other search engines that protect your privacy
The private search engines listed above aren’t the only options. There are some alternatives worth mentioning, including the following:
- Gibiru: recommends using a VPN and also blocking cookies on your browser
- MetaGer: shows you the source of each result
- Mojeek: independent search engine with its own web crawler
- Peekier: shows you a screenshot of every page
- Disconnect Search: submits your search anonymously and gets results from other search engines
Choosing the Best Private Search Engine: What to Look Out For
A search engine that protects your privacy must have some basic features. It is up to you to decide which features are most important. We’ve listed several questions you can ask yourself when considering which search engine to use.
How do they make their money?
Google is a million-dollar company that makes money by collecting its users’ data. This, of course, should not be the case for private search engines. But even the best private search engines need to earn money to exist. So how do they make that money?
Search engines usually generate revenue through advertisements, affiliate links, or donations.
If advertising is one of a company’s sources of income, you will see ads on its pages. Search engines that don’t collect your data will not display personalized ads.
Affiliate marketing allows companies to earn money by promoting a product or service. On DuckDuckGo, for instance, when you click on an affiliate link and buy something, DuckDuckGo earns a commission on that sale.
Another option for companies is donations. Customers that are happy with the service a search engine provides can donate to the company to keep them afloat.
What data do they collect?
Private search engines usually don’t create profiles for each user. This doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t save any data about your searches.
In general, private search engines won’t tell companies which search terms led you to their website. But this information can be used in other ways.
Some private search engines say they use anonymized data to improve their service. For instance, by analyzing users’ searches, they can still bring up the correct result even when you misspell a search term.
Where is the company located?
It is essential to check what country a search engine is located. A company based in the US has to abide by different laws than a company in China, Europe, or Turkey. You should also consider alliances like 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes, since they determine which countries your data can be shared with.
Companies based in countries with very strict privacy laws are the best since the government won’t be able to get their hands on any data there without a good reason for it.
What are the search results like?
Of course, one of the most critical factors in choosing a search engine is the quality of the search results. Google has become the standard for many people thanks to its effectiveness.
You want a search engine that answers all your questions, gives you plenty of results to choose from, and sorts them. This can be difficult for some search engines because they haven’t been around for that long. You can compare search results to see which search engine works best for your purposes.
We put some private search engines to the test and compared the search results. We used the exact search term “VPNOverview” on each platform. These are the results we got:
DuckDuckGo showed us our website’s homepage as the first result, followed by our About Us page and our Facebook page:
Startpage also listed our homepage first and then some popular articles published on our site:
Searx showed similar results, which isn’t surprising considering that they collect results from the same search engines. Below, you can see that Searx indicates where each result comes from:
Most search engines provide similar results. This means you can easily find what you are looking for. However, this could be different for more obscure search terms.
Do they work with other search engines?
Most private search engines, including some we’ve listed above, don’t have their own database but use the data from other search engines, like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. This means that they can give you extensive search results and still keep your private information secure.
Working with other companies can be very useful, but you have to consider the agreement between these companies. How does the search engine access the information? Ensure your data isn’t being shared with third parties, as that would defeat the purpose of using a private search engine.
Which features do they offer?
When you search for a recipe on Google, you don’t need to click on anything to find a result. Google simply lists the ingredients and steps to follow. The same goes for the weather forecast. Just type “forecast [your city],” and there it is.
These innovative features aren’t only available on Google. Some private search engines offer them as well. DuckDuckGo shows you whether a website is online and even allows you to convert currency. And it has many other features.
Open-source search engines allow you to run your own search page, and some engines have developed extensions or even complete browsers that you can use.
Can I trust them?
This is the most challenging question to answer. How can you be sure you can trust a company with your data? A good indicator can be the history of the company and the people behind it.
Has the search engine ever been discredited in the media for some reason? It could signify that things aren’t as great as they’d want you to believe.
The Downside of Popular Search Engines
Search engines offer an easy and convenient way to explore the internet. They simplify the laborious task of scouring through millions of web pages to find information.
Search engine crawlers do all the hard work on our behalf. Random search queries typically bring up a list of pages, eliminating the need to remember specific URLs or website names.
While search engines are invaluable, there’s a catch. Most search engines are free, and they make money through ads. This often involves gathering user data and monetizing it through schemes like targeted advertising.
Advertisements in search engines
Search engines need to earn money to stay afloat, understandably so, and the primary way some generate funds is through advertising. In 2020, over 80 percent of Alphabet’s revenue came from Google Ads.
Whenever you use a search engine like Google, it records what you search for and what you click on. Google services like Gmail and YouTube allow the company to track you outside its search engine.
Keeping tabs on everything you do online allows Google to learn a lot about you, including your favorite artists, what recipes you’ve tried, where you live, where you work, and whether you’re healthy. This data can reveal your preferences and intimate details like your goals and desires.
Using this trove of data, Google can build a profile for each user and display advertisements you’ll likely be interested in. Companies pay for this insight to make their adverting campaigns more effective. While Google insists it does not sell user data, the company has been accused of doing this “continually and surreptitiously” through “real-time bidding” for ad spaces.
What do big search engines like Google and Bing know about me?
Search engines know user data is monetizable, so they track users extensively and gather vast amounts of information about our online activities.
You may be stunned by what Google knows about you. The company likely knows who you are, what you look like, where you live, what you’re interested in, where you spend your money, who your friends and family are, and which websites you’ve visited over the years. All this data is linked to your IP address.
Google is the default search engine for millions of people, and we voluntarily hand over more information to Google when we use any of its services.
Want to know what information Google uses to tailor the advertisements and search results you see? Click this link to find out.
Log in to your account — if you weren’t logged in already — and you can get a glimpse into Google’s profile of you and what type of content the company thinks you’d be interested in. There are categories for sex, age, interests, education, and parental status, among other things.
Google tries to gather as much information as possible about you through your search history and how you use its services. For example, by monitoring the videos you watch on YouTube, Google can tell the type of content you’re interested in.
Do you wish to stop this invasive tracking? Our article on how to optimize your Google privacy settings contains step-by-step instructions on how to do this.
Personal information on the world wide web
Another disadvantage of search engines is that they make it easy to find the personal information of others.
If any of your private data ends up online — such as your social security number, nude footage, or bank account number — anyone can find it if they use the right search terms. In cases like this, you can send a request to Google asking to delete these items from their database. This won’t completely scrub it off the internet; it won’t simply appear on Google Search results.
The dangers of a monopoly
There are far-reaching consequences of having one primary search engine that is used all around the globe, like Google. The company has the power to create a filter bubble since it decides what search results you’re shown. When search results are adjusted to fit your profile, people will get different answers to the same question, and not everyone gets access to the same information.
Imagine you are a climate activist, and your best friend does not believe in climate change. Google knows about your interests, so when you and your friend search for “climate protest,” you’ll get different results.
You may get information about the next protest and blogs about the importance of renewable energy and reducing your carbon footprint. But your friend may find opinion pieces that say climate protests are a waste of time.
In this way, search engines can influence the ideas and behavior of their users. You may not find any new information or contradictory points of view when you do research online. Instead, Google will show you results that support your beliefs.
This has a polarizing effect and may produce a dangerously divisive society.
Browsing Anonymously: Basic Essentials
The best private search engines allow you to browse the web without being tracked. Unfortunately, there is more to it than just using a private search engine if you want to stay anonymous online.
Websites log your data. Also, governments and your internet service provider (ISP) can monitor your online behavior even with a private search engine.
1. Choose a browser that respects your privacy
Some browsers collect data about you or aren’t secure. That’s why it’s important to pick the right browser to work with. A privacy-friendly browser, like Firefox, is a good choice. Google Chrome is less concerned about your privacy. If you want a very high level of anonymity, then consider using the Tor browser.
2. Use a VPN to encrypt your traffic
You can hide your internet traffic and anonymize your online presence by using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN diverts your traffic through an external server and hides your IP address from prying eyes.
Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the top privacy-oriented VPNs available today. It has a strict no-logs policy, uses some of the most secure VPN protocols available today, and is priced reasonably.
3. Install an ad blocker and an anti-tracker extension
Search engines and websites use trackers to monitor your online activity and deliver personalized content. You may have noticed that you’re always shown ads for clothing you’ve looked at online. Ad blockers and other anti-tracker extensions can help to stop this. Most leading antiviruses, such as AVG Antivirus, include anti-track and ad-blocking tools.
4. Log out of social media and online accounts
If you’re logged in to Facebook, the website will be able to track you across the internet. This is also the case with other social media platforms. To avoid this, get into the habit of logging out of these platforms after you’re done using them.
5. Use an identity theft service
One of the greatest dangers to our privacy is the theft of credit card details, social security numbers, and passwords. Identity theft services like Norton LifeLock monitor your accounts for suspicious activity. They also monitor the dark web to check if your personal information has been leaked.
Conclusion: Protecting Your Privacy Online
Using search engines that protect your privacy is a significant step towards a more private internet experience. Not everybody needs to know what you get up to online, and large corporations like Google shouldn’t be concerned with that. The search engines we’ve listed above will help to protect your privacy, although they all take a slightly different approach.
Whether you choose DuckDuckGo, Startpage, or Qwant, it’s essential to know how the search engine functions.
If you want to be safe, consider using different search engines for different purposes. Switching between search engines limits the information a particular company can gather on you.
Check out these insightful articles to learn more about how to browse the web anonymously:
- Best Google Alternatives for 2022: Take Control of Your Privacy!
- Who Can See Your Browsing History and the Websites You Visited?
- Browser Fingerprinting: What Is It and How Can You Prevent It?
- The Privacy Risks of Browser Extensions – A Guide for Safety
Do you want a quick answer to a question about the best private search engines? Click on one of the questions below and the answer will appear.
If you value your privacy and don’t want to be tracked online, we recommend using a search engine that protects your privacy. The best private search engines do not collect or sell your data.
There are many remarkable private search engines. After assessing several options, we settled on the following options:
- Wolfram Alpha
Read our article on the best private search engines to learn more about them.
Many popular search engines, including Google, collect and sell user data to make money. Google tracks your online activity and builds a profile of you. It uses this profile to determine what ads to show you.
Using a private search engine is not enough to keep you anonymous online. Websites log your data, and your internet provider sees everything you do online. We recommend using a privacy-friendly browser, a VPN, an ad blocker, and an anti-tracker extension for complete protection.