With the number of privacy breaches hitting the headlines, you may wish the internet never got to know you at all.
After all, Google is just one of the platforms that tracks our movements. And Facebook, the other tech giant, well they just had a password glitch.
Then there’s the inconvenience of getting bombarded by ping pong merchandise ads after watching that one, tiny ping pong rally video.
The reasons may vary but we understand that lack of privacy either leaves you vulnerable or causes you to live with skewed perspective of a world tailored to your actions, also known as a filter bubble.
So, why not use search engines that don’t track you?
The options that exist currently don’t come close to Google, or even Bing yet. But, they are trying and may even surpass the giants in their own unique way pretty soon.
Read on for an introduction to five privacy-focused search engines.
DuckDuckGo is probably the search engine that is closest in its functionality to Google, but without any of the tracking.
You will experience ads. However, they are not personalized, instead being focused on the search terms or the metadata of the website. And, they can be disabled in the settings.
It offers the same results to any user for the same search, completely breaking the filter bubble, offering the best matching results compiled from more than 400 sources.
DuckDuckGo keeps no records of the searches done on its page. It doesn’t track users and doesn’t keep any data that can be linked to an individual. It also actively refines the search results by removing content mills and sites with poor quality content.
You have the option of searching with the help of filters such as images, videos, web, and news. You can use regions to narrow down your search along with having other options such as safe search.
DuckDuckGo supports TOR and has introduced voice search for Google Chrome voice search extension.
In summary, you have almost all of the functionality and none of the tracking.
- Complete search engine
- Resembles Google in its early days in form and function
- Lots of filters
- Safe search options
- TOR support
- Voice search
Qwant is based in Paris, France and started its life by collecting semantic indexing through Bing and other search engines.
However, Qwant claims to be a complete search engine in its own right as opposed to being an aggregator of search results from other search engines.
Qwant offers a rich and deep experience instead of the bland experience usually associated with search engines. There are news stories and hot new trends for users to explore as well as multiple filters available to narrow down results or to focus on a particular area of interest.
The search results are accompanied by non-personalized ads, using Bing’s ad engine, along with news from social media on the searched topic.
Qwant offers three different versions:
- Lite (for older browsers)
It is strict on its privacy stance and offers protection under the GDPR. It takes complex and lengthy precautions like rerouting image search results through its own servers, hiding users from the image hosting sites to ensure user privacy.
As of 2018, it is used officially as a default search engine by French companies and state institutions. This move is set to free internet users from surveillance in the hope of acquiring digital independence and freedom.
- Multiple versions depending on the user base
- State level recognition
- Rich experience
- A complete search engine (not as good as Google or Bing but with a high aspiration to replace them)
If being Google-like was the aim then Startpage tries to excel by using Google itself to help do the job.
Startpage started its life as a metasearch engine. However, now instead of aggregated search results from multiple sources, it relies solely on Google to “enhance its search results”.
Startpage also has its own proxy service. It is used to access websites in the search results by clicking on the “Anonymous view” link.
This combination gives Startpage its unique edge of privacy and Google-like results. The search results are almost displayed like Google and you can also change the theme of the website.
Lastly, it supports 17 different languages and also has filter options to narrow down the search results.
- Offers its own proxy service
- Multiple language support
- Google enhanced search results
- Different themes
Swisscows is the pretty cousin of Startpage in its method of utilizing another search engine, using Bing for its search queries.
But this is where the similarity ends. Swisscows is made by Hulbee AG as a semantic data recognition system which uses AI to understand the question and answer it. It is very much like Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant in that sense.
It has a unique, functional design which helps you get the most out of your search by allowing you to interact with an ever-changing grid of terms in the form of a semantic map, right alongside the search results.
It has a language translator facility along with a date filter and it only tracks the number of times searches are carried out, nothing more. It has no safe search filters and all explicit results are omitted by design.
- Semantic-based search results which answer queries by trying to understand the question
- Semantic map of relevant terms
- Only non-explicit search results
SearX is unique in our list of search engines in that it is a true metasearch engine. It is also an open source solution free to use under the general public license AGPL3.
SearX supports multiple instances where any user is allowed to run their own copy of SearX to keep them secure, to help take the load off other publically used instances or just to keep customized settings intact. These user-run-instances can be set as public so that others can use them, or kept private for individual use.
This is just like having a little Google search engine right on your system which you can customize to your needs, set up for yourself alone or share it in the public domain for others to use and edit.
SearX offers complete customization options to run its more than 80 search engines which include Google, Bing and Yahoo. You can choose your own combination of search engines to use in queries or even modify the resulting links to remove different arguments.
Being in the open source domain means fast-paced evolution, and although the interface seems lacking, for now, we sure hope to see better things coming soon.
- Free and open source
- Metasearch engine with 80 plus search engines
- Completely customizable
- Open to be hosted publically or privately
Filling in the Gaps
The search engines we have discussed here can help you navigate the digital ocean without jeopardizing your privacy. They may even help you keep yourself more secure if you use them properly.
However, there will be holes to fill depending on the choices you make while surfing the internet.
You will notice that only a few of these search engines offer proxy services for anonymous visits.
Since not everyone offers them, it is not a difficult conclusion to reach that once you have clicked on a search result and left the search engine, you are once again out in the open, ready to be tracked.
It is thus best for you to visualize the search engine as part of a larger plan which should include a good antivirus, a VPN and a firewall to fill in all the gaps to ensure complete privacy.Depending on any single component just won’t be enough.