The Best Search Engines for Your Privacy: How to Search Without Being Found

search engines
Click here for a summary of the best search engines for your privacy
The Best Search Engines for Your Privacy – A Summary

Many well known search engines collect and sell your data. If you’re fed up with this, it might be time to start using a search engine that protects your privacy. This way you will still be able to search the web, but without giving up your personal information. Some good privacy-loving alternatives are:

  1. Startpage 
  2. DuckDuckGo
  3. Quant
  4. Swisscows
  5. Search Encrypt
  6. SearX
  7. Ecosia

Want to know more about these search engines or some alternatives? Please read the article below.

The verb ‘to google’ was officially added to the dictionary in 2006. Google has become a big part of our (internet)culture and it is hard to imagine a world without it. But that doesn’t mean that Google is the perfect search engine. Both Google and other search engines use information on their users to make a profit. Your data is worth a lot to them.

Luckily, there are also some search engines that value the privacy of their users and try to protect it. In this article, we will explain in what way big companies like Google use your information, and why this could be dangerous. We will then list several alternative search engines that protect your personal information.

search iconSearch engines are probably the best way to explore the internet. Since there are so many websites and pages online, you need a database that will help you in your search for the right piece of information. Search engines offer any easy way to navigate the internet. You can simply enter what you’re looking for without needing to remember specific URLs or website names, and the search engine will do the work for you.

At first sight, this seems like the perfect way to do things. But there is a catch. Most search engines are freely accessible; you type in a search term and you’re good to go. But what are the consequences?

Advertisements in search engines

Search engines need to earn money to stay afloat. They have several ways to do this, but it mostly happens through selling data. Whenever you use a search engine, it records what you search for and what you click on. Some also offer other services, like Google does with Gmail and YouTube. They learn a lot about you, since they log every move you make. They know who your favorite artists are, which recipes you’ve tried, but also where you live, where you work, and whether you’re healthy.

All the collected data is used to build a profile about you, so that companies can show you advertisements which fit that profile. Companies will pay for this advertising space. The more effective their marketing, the bigger the chance that you buy something.

What do big search engines like Google and Bing know about me?

Search engines know that there is money to make when they collect user data. They will therefore try to be as effective as possible when doing this. Google has become very good at that. They know exactly 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. All this data is linked to your IP address. You sometimes even hand over your information to Google voluntarily when you create an account for one of their services. Other information is collected by logging your online behavior.

Want to know what information Google uses to adjust your advertisements and results to your internet behavior? Click this link and find out. Log in to your account – if you weren’t logged in already – and you can see what categories Google has divided you into. There are categories for sex, age, interests, education, and parental status.

Google_profile

As you can see, Google tries to find out as much as possible about your life. They find some information by looking at your search history. Have you searched for screen times of the latest blockbuster and watched some trailers and videos on YouTube? Then Google will know that you’re interested in movies. But for other categories it’s not as specific. Google will simply guess your education level by comparing your search behavior to the behavior of people that have registered their education level, if you haven’t.

Personal information on the world wide web

Another disadvantage of search engines is that it becomes very easy to find personal information about others. If any of your private data ends up online – think of social security number, nude footage, or bank account number – anyone will be able to find it if they use the right search terms. In cases like these, you can send in a request to Google asking to delete these items from their database.

The dangers of a monopoly

When there’s one primary search engine that is being used all around the globe – like Google – there will be far-reaching consequences. The main issue is that you will be put in a filter bubble, since the search engine decides which results you’re shown. When these results are adjusted to fit your personal profile, different people will get different answers to the same question. Not everyone gets access to the same information, which will result in an undemocratic climate.

For example: imagine you look up a lot of things online about climate change and green politics. Your best friend has a different opinion and does not believe in climate change. Google knows this about you, so when you both search for “climate protest”, you and your friend will be shown very different results. You will get information about the next protest and blogs about the importance of renewable energy and reducing your carbon footprint. But your friend will find opinion pieces about the fact that climate protests are not necessary and a waste of time.

In this way, search engines have a big influence on their users. You will no longer find new information and points of view when you do research online. Instead, Google will try to show you as many results as possible that will confirm your suspicions and opinions. This has a polarizing effect; you and your best friend will rarely find each other’s opinion online.

The Best Private Search Engines

It might feel like the search engine world is completely dominated by Google. But there are many alternatives out there that will safeguard your privacy. Moreover, these options often show more organic results without filtering out certain results. We have listed some options below.

1. Startpage

Startpage.com is a privacy friendly search engine which concerns itself with protecting your private information. It was built in The Netherlands. Startpage’s database is based on Google’s; they have bought access to Google’s data, but use it without all the trackers and logs. This gives you great search results, but you don’t get any of the personalized advertisements. You can use it without your personal information being collected. This also means that Google’s ‘echo chamber’ – where Google just shows you the results that will confirm your opinions – won’t be an issue for you anymore. In 2019, Startpage won the Dutch Privacy Awards, which proves the quality of this search engine, since Dutch privacy law is very strict.

At the end of 2019, Startpage became the talk of the town because System1, a business working in advertisement, invested in the company. Many users were worried about their privacy, because System1 invested a significant amount of money. Startpage responded by saying that users’ privacy would not be at risk at any point.

2. DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo cannot be missing from a list of search engines that protect your privacy. This search engine is probably the most popular way to safeguard your personal information while browsing. DuckDuckGo is an American company that was founded in 2008. It has grown into a very effective search engine, that offers many extra features, not unlike Google. You can search for images, videos, and news, but you can also easily find recipes and the weather forecast without having to click on anything.

DuckDuckGo’s database has combined many other sources, such as Yahoo! and Wikipedia. Their DuckDuckBot, the company’s web crawler, makes sure that the search results are constantly updated and improved. On top of that, DuckDuckGo uses the Tor network, which makes it much harder for people to trace your searches back to you.

3. Qwant

qwant-logo

Qwant’s search engine was founded in 2013 and is run from France. It is very popular there, but is used a lot outside of France as well. Qwant’s homepage doesn’t just show the search engine, but also displays recent news, trending personalities (like Donald Trump), and other social trends. This information is updated constantly and shows what is going on in the world.

Qwant promises to never log your searches or use your personal information for marketing or other purposes. It also always shows you neutral results that haven’t been made to fit your interests, and the page is available in 26 languages. On top of the ‘normal’ search engine, Quant offers several other platforms. There is Quant Music, where you can find music and performing artists, and Qwant Maps, which is a more anonymous version of Google Maps.

4. Swisscows

As the name already suggests, Swisscows is a company based in Switzerland. They don’t collect any IP-addresses or other personal information. They also don’t analyze their users’ search behavior or place cookies. The only information that is logged is the number of daily searches, which allows Swisscows to measure the total amount of data traffic on the website. Swisscows has stated that they might need to start collecting personal data, since the government has asked them to.

swisscows-logo

Swisscows’ webpage looks quite whimsical. They don’t just list your search results, but they also show a semantic graph in which related search terms are displayed. A small banner for sponsors is shown above the search results. Swisscows allows you to search for websites, images, videos, and music. They also offer an online translator, but it sadly isn’t as accurate as other translation tools out there.

5. Search Encrypt

The search engine Search Encrypt uses encryption to guarantee your privacy. Data about your searches will disappear as soon as you close the window. This will end the key that was used for the encryption, which means that nobody will be able to recover your data. So the main advantage of this search engine is that nobody can see your search results, not even the owner of the network you’re using or your internet provider. Search Encrypt does show a lot of ads that take up most of your screen when you enter a search. The search engine uses affiliate links, which means that they receive a commission when you buy something from a partner through one of their links.

search-encrypt-logo

There seems to be a bit of controversy surrounding this search engine. Some users are very impressed by the system, but others have questions regarding the privacy policy. This policy claims that they will never log your search history in a way that it could be traced back to you. So that does mean that they do log some data about your browsing activities. They collect encrypted data, which means that the search engine isn’t completely private. In addition, many people seem to have issues with Search Encrypt’s browser extension. The plug-in seems to be very difficult to delete and it changes your Homepage automatically.

6. SearX

SearX.me is a meta search engine. This means that it uses the search results of other popular search engines, like many others in this list. The results that are shown in SearX are comprised out of the results from other engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo!. These results will never be personalized, since SearX doesn’t create user profiles and doesn’t share information with third parties. A downside to this search engine is that it is often blocked by, for instance, Google. If that happens, you will see an error stating that it wasn’t able to receive results from a certain search engine. This could result in a decline in search results.

searx-logo

SearX is open source and offers up the code for its programming free of charge. This transparency means that people will notice and make others aware if anything is wrong with the code. On top of that, anyone is now able to start running their own search engine. And this idea is supported by SearX. They claim that the more decentralized the internet becomes, the better it gets.

7. Ecosia

A special search engine that protects your privacy is Ecosia. They are a German company and have been around since 2009. Their goal is clear – they want to plant trees. The ecological search engine donates 80% of its profits to charities that plant trees all around the world. They make their profit through advertising, so ads are part of the search experience.

ecosia_logo

Ecosia is completely open about its finances, they are powered by renewable energy, and they make an effort to protect your privacy. This doesn’t mean that they don’t collect any of your personal data. Your search results are anonymized, but only after a week. The company does promise to never sell your data to advertisers and to not use external tracking tools. Your search results are encrypted so that strangers can’t look at them.

Even though Ecosia isn’t the best option for your privacy, it is a good choice if you want to support charity without actually having to put any effort into it. Another search engine based on the same concept is Givero. This platform allows you to choose the charities you want to support.

Other search engines that protect your privacy

The search engines listed above aren’t the only options. There are some alternatives that you can try, and they all have their own distinguishing features.

  • Giburu: advises you to use ExpressVPN on top of anonymous browsing
  • MetaGer: shows you which sources gave what results
  • Mojeek: has its own webcrawler
  • YaCy: functions via a peer-to-peer network
  • Peekier: shows you a screenshot of every page in the search results
  • Disconnect Search: submits your search anonymously and gets results from other search engines

Private Search Engines – What to Look Out For

A great search engine that protects your privacy needs to have a number of features. It is up to you to decide which features are most important. We’ve listed a number of questions that 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 their money by collecting personal data. This, of course, should not be the case for private search engines. But these companies do need to earn money to exist. So how do they make that money?

Some ways for search engines to keep their company running is through advertisements, affiliate links, and donations. If a company decides to use advertising as a source of income, you will see ads on the website. Search engines that don’t collect your data will not show any personalized ads. But you might find these ads annoying and want to go for an option without advertising. Affiliate links are set up when a deal has been made between a search engine and another company. On DuckDuckGo for instance, you can click on an affiliate link and buy something on that website. DuckDuckGo will then earn commission on that sale. Another option for companies is working with donations. Customers that are happy with the service that the search engine provides can donate a certain amount of money to the company to keep them afloat.

What data do they collect?

list with magnifying glass

The concept behind a search engine that protects your privacy is that they don’t connect your search results to your person. That doesn’t necessarily mean that companies don’t save any data about your searches. In general, search engines won’t tell companies which search terms led you to their website. But this information can be used in other ways. Several search engines state that they use anonymized data to improve their service. For instance, when you misspell a search term and it still leads you to the correct result. This can only happen when a search engine collects data on the searches that have been done. If you want to check in what way your data is used, you can always read a search engine’s privacy policy. This document will describe what data is collected and how it is used.

What law do they have to abide to?

It is very important to check which country the company behind the search engine is based in. 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 that have very strict privacy laws would be best, since the government won’t be able to get their hands on any data there without having a very good reason for it.

What are the search results like?

Of course, one of the most important factors in choosing a search engine is the quality of the search results. Google has become the standard for many people, since it is so effective. You want a search engine that answers all your questions, gives you plenty of results to choose from, and sorts them clearly. This can be difficult for some search engines, because they haven’t been around for that long yet. You can compare search results to see which search engine works best for your purposes.

We put some of the search engines to the test as well, and compared search results for DuckDuckGo, Startpage, SearX, and Search Encrypt. We used the same search term, ‘VPNOverview’, on each platform, which give the following results:

  • DuckDuckGo showed us our website’s home page as the first result, followed by the About Us page on our website and our Facebook page.

duckduckgo search

  • Startpage also listed our homepage first. After that they continue with some popular articles published on our site.

startpage search

  • Search Encrypt showed us our website’s home page as the first result, followed by the About Us page on our website and our Twitter page.

search encrypt

  • SearX showed similar results, which isn’t that surprising when you consider that they collect results from different search engines. Below you can see that they also indicate where they got each result.

SearchX

As you can see most of these search engines have similar results. In general, you will be able to find what you are looking for. However, this could be different for more obscure searches. DuckDuckGo and Startpage are very user-friendly and with SearX you won’t get any ads. All of these options are so much more privacy-orientated than Google.

Do they work with other search engines?

Many of the search engines that we’ve listed 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, but still keep your private information secure. So working with other companies can be very useful. You do have to consider what agreement was made with these companies. How does the search engine access the information? You have to make sure that your data isn’t shared with the other companies, since that would defeat the purpose of using the search engine.

Which features do they offer?

Very often, when you search for a recipe on Google, you don’t even 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 types of smart features aren’t just used by Google. Search engines that protect your privacy use them as well. DuckDuckGo shows you immediately whether a website is online and even allows you to convert currency. And there are more features. Open-source search engines allow you to run your own search page, and some engines have developed extensions or even complete browsers that can help you.

Can I trust them?

This is the most difficult question to answer. How can you be sure that you can trust a company with your data? A good indicator can be the history of the company and the people behind it. If the search engine has ever been discredited in the media for some reason, it could be a sign that things aren’t as great as you’d want.

Browsing Anonymously – What to Look Out For

man with telescope

Private search engines offer their users the option to browse the web without being watched. Unfortunately, there is more to it than just using the right search engine, if you really want keep your information private. Websites log your data. Governments can monitor your online behavior. Your internet provider can even see everything you put online. Do you want to avoid this in the future? We’ve listed some measures that you can take to make your browsing more anonymously. This way, you can prevent others from seeing which websites you visit.

  1. Choose a browser that respects your privacy. Some browsers collect all sorts of data about you or aren’t really secure. So it is a good idea to take some time and consider which browser you want to use in daily life. Firefox is generally a good choice. Google Chrome on the other hand is less concerned with your privacy.
  2. Use a VPN to encrypt your traffic. You can hide your internet traffic somewhat, and anonymize your online presence, by using a VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) will divert your traffic through an external server, which hides your IP address. You can read more about VPNs and how to use them in our article “VPN explained”.
  3. Install an adblocker and an anti-tracker extension. Online trackers are placed within your browser all the time. These trackers make sure that a website recognizes you and that the content can be personalized for you. You might have noticed that you’re always shown ads of clothing that you’ve looked at online before. Adblockers and other browser extensions help to stop this. These programs will block trackers and annoying ads, which will make your online experience better and more enjoyable. A search engine like DuckDuckGo also includes anti-tracking features.
  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 large parts of the internet. This is also the case with other social media platforms. To avoid this you should get into the habit of logging out of these platforms after you’re done using them.

To Conclude – Search Engines That Protect Your Privacy

Using search engines that try to protect your privacy is a great step towards a better, more private internet experience. Not everybody needs to know what you get up to online, and especially large corporations like Google shouldn’t be concerned with that. The search engines that we’ve listed in this article will help you to protect your privacy, although they all take a slightly different approach. Whether you choose DuckDuckGo, Startpage, or Qwant, you should always be aware of the way a search engine functions.

If you really want to be safe, you could consider using different search engines for different purposes. If you continue to switch between search engines, none of them will have all of your information, so the chances that they can compile a complete profile on you are very low.

Search Engines for Your Privacy: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you want a quick answer to your question on anonymous search engines? Click on one of the questions below and the answer will appear.

If you value your privacy and don’t want everyone to know what you’re doing online, we recommend using a search engine that protects your privacy. These search engines do not collect or sell your information. Many well-known search engines do.

Below you’ll find an overview of some excellent search engines, which help to protect your privacy:

  • Startpage
  • DuckDuckGo
  • Qwant
  • Swisscows
  • Search Encrypt
  • SearX
  • Ecosia

Many traditional search engines collect and sell user data to make money. Google, for example, is an expert in this. Through your surfing behavior and search history Google builds a personal profile of you. Google uses this profile to show you ads that match that profile. Companies pay for these ads.

Using the right search engine alone is not enough if you really want keep your information private online. Websites log your data and your internet provider sees everything you put online.  Governments can also follow your online behavior. You can take the measures below to surf the internet more anonymously:

  • Choose a reliable, privacy-respecting browser.
  • Use a VPN to encrypt your traffic.
  • Install an adblocker and anti-tracker extension.
  • Log out of social media and online accounts.

 

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cybersecurity analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Since 2014 he has been gaining international experience working with governments, NGOs, and the private sector as a cybersecurity and VPN expert and advisor.