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Best Private Search Engines
We all use search engines every day, whether it’s to find answers to specific questions, to locate a good restaurant to eat, to find a new store, or to catch up on the news.
But by using search engines so extensively, we give them (and their operators) tons of personal information about our browsing habits, interests, and more.
For many of us, this arrangement is far too uncomfortable already, and it’s only getting worse. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the best private search engines in the industry.
These search engines can help you use the Internet the same way as other “mainstream” search engines, but won’t collect your data or compromise your privacy or anonymity. Let’s break it down.
The 7 Best Private Search Engines
These days, there are lots of private search engines (or, at the very least, search engines that claim to focus on your privacy instead of advertisements or tracking). But there are great search engines and mediocre ones. Let’s break down the seven top privacy-focused search engines that you can download and use right now.
- No saving your search history or other user-related data
- All your settings can be saved in the cloud
- You can tailor your search by geographic region
Most people have heard of DuckDuckGo, and for good reason. It’s arguably the most well-known and secure search engine in the industry, even compared to industry mainstays like Firefox.
Indeed, DuckDuckGo offers a relatively unique search engine experience. As opposed to Google, DuckDuckGo uses various sponsored links to display advertisements to stay running. But unlike Google and other search engines, these links aren’t targeted toward your search behavior or history – this respects your privacy and prevents the search engine from collecting data about where you go on the Internet.
This isn’t to say that DuckDuckGo doesn’t come with a few minor downsides. Its search algorithm isn’t the most sophisticated, though this is partially because it doesn’t collect data on you in the first place! In fact, DuckDuckGo’s search results are usually simplified using metadata. You can select the country and get relevant results based on your geographic area.
Aside from these aspects, it’s a solid search engine with most major functionalities you would expect, though it does lack a few extra tools, like the ability to filter through images by licenses.
- There’s a separate Qwant Junior search engine for kids
- Very privacy-focused and doesn’t share information with third parties
- Has multiple information filters to use
- Takes ads from the Bing network
You should also consider Qwant, another privacy-focused search engine that’s best thought of as the second choice after DuckDuckGo. It’s one of the best search engines in the industry in terms of total data privacy and neutrality.
Even better, Qwant doesn’t offer a relatively simplified or stripped-down user experience even though it focuses on your privacy far more than the likes of Google. The dynamic search engine brings you trending news stories, topics, and webpages regularly and quickly, even though it doesn’t offer a personalized experience in any way.
It also doesn’t share any information with third parties and allows you to filter your results through various categories, such as music, images, and more. It does generate revenue from ads through the Bing ad network, but this is only a minor downside overall. If you have kids, you’ll also appreciate the Qwant Junior search engine that you can access at any time, which automatically blocks out any inappropriate material or websites.
- As a meta-search engine, it takes search engine results from other big search engines
- SearX doesn’t save any of your personal information or share it with third parties
- This is made with open-source software, so you can look at the code yourself
Then there’s SearX: a free piece of software that’s also among the most recognized in the open-source community. This means that anyone can contribute to making this search engine a little better.
But it’s not a regular search engine. Instead, it’s a so-called meta-search engine, meaning that it takes the search results from other popular search engines, such as Google or Yahoo, then combines all that data into meaningful results for your search queries.
Of course, this is still a privacy-focused search engine since SearX gets rid of any identifying data that might otherwise be used by more mainstream search engine competitors. This means you get many of the same results from search engines like Google without having to worry about your privacy being compromised.
- Has some ads, but you can sponsor the search engine and remove these
- No tracking of your information whatsoever, even through the ads
- Uses the Tor network to scramble your search queries before returning you information
- Is a meta-search engine, so it takes results from other search engines
MetaGer is a worthwhile alternative as well. As with SearX, MetaGer is an open-source meta-search engine. But it takes privacy incredibly seriously, as indicated by the fact that it uses the Tor network to grab your search results, effectively scrambling any identifying bits of information that might allow third parties or companies to take advantage of your search history.
This means it’s a perfect search engine if you already use Tor: the first step to Internet browsing anonymity.
MetaGer is also based in Germany. This is even better for Americans focused on data privacy, as there’s no chance that the search engine will share your information with the US government since the company simply isn’t bound by US rules or legal procedures.
Of course, MetaGer does have to make money, which is why they use some advertisements, though these are not integrated with any trackers. You can alternatively join the nonprofit organization that sponsors this search engine (called SUMA-EV) and get an ad-free experience as a result.
- Potentially a good pick for finding websites that might otherwise be censored
- Never saves or store your data on their servers
- Need to use a VPN to totally mask your browsing activity
Gibiru is one of the most privacy-friendly search engines on the market, and it works hard to provide your queries with unbiased and uncensored search results. As a private search engine, it uses code that translates every query you input into an anonymous format, making it difficult or impossible for anyone to track your behavior or search history.
The only main annoying part of Gibiru is that it constantly recommends you use ExpressVPN – no doubt the two companies are sponsoring each other. However, using a VPN is a good idea with this search engine since it doesn’t do anything to prevent websites from tracking your activity. Thus, this private search engine is really only good for masking your direct queries, not your browsing activity.
While you won’t get as sophisticated or in-depth results as if you used a more mainstream search engine, Gibiru can still very much be worth your while. This is especially true since your data won’t be stored on any servers. It even allows you to identify censored or suppressed websites and promotes them to the top of your search engine results.
- Uses some of the money it earns to plant trees
- Runs on servers with 100% renewable energy
- Uses Bing search results for your queries
- Doesn’t utilize tracking tech to monitor your searches or browsing habits
Ecosia is a relatively unique search engine in that, as its namesake suggests, it uses much of its income to plant trees. Thus, this is also an environmentally-focused search engine in addition to a privacy-friendly search engine.
The downside is that this search engine uses Bing search results in order to provide you with responses to your queries. It doesn’t implement any trackers, of course (otherwise it wouldn’t be on this list), but it does utilize ads from that network in order to make money and plant more trees.
The good news is that it’s a very transparent search engine, as it shares all of its profits through monthly financial reports. Even better, this search engine’s servers all run using 100% renewable energy. Ultimately, it’s a good search engine if you’re eco-conscious and want to support a company doing what it can to make this world a sustainable place.
- Allows you to encrypt and decrypt your search results and queries
- All your results can be aggregated and encrypted in a batch file
- Advanced security and encryption options are available
- Uses sponsored ads that show up on your search results to turn a profit
Last but not least is Search Encrypt: a privacy-focused search engine that directly encrypts the search terms you put into its query bar, then encrypts the responses you get as well. This double-layered encryption is one of the best direct defenses against people trying to actively track you or cookies that attempt to stick to your digital movements.
Combined with a VPN and only visiting sites with SSL certification, chances are high that your browsing habits or visited sites won’t be visible or decryptable by anyone save for those with supercomputers. However, this search engine does utilize sponsored ads that you’ll see on your search results page. These can sometimes feel inundating, but it’s a small price to pay for excellent encryption all around.
Furthermore, you can use tools to aggregate various search results into a single collection. Extra tools, such as the ability to alter how your queries and responses are encrypted, are included as well, making this a great choice for technically inclined users.
How Do Search Engines Work?
In a nutshell, all search engines work in essentially the same way. They have three primary functions that help to collect information and then display it in a useful way for you.
- First, search engines crawl the Internet. This means that they scroll through thousands of pages in an instant, looking for content that is relevant to your search query and keywords. Search engines will look over both the internal code of specific pages and the content on those pages for each URL that matches your search query or keyword combinations
- Next, search engines index the content that they find throughout the crawling process (which only takes a second or two from modern search engines). By indexing the content, search engines can store and organize it, funneling content that is more likely to be directly related to your query to the top of the “stack”
- Lastly, search engines will rank the content that they find. This involves putting the highest-ranking content at the top of your search engine page, hopefully answering your query with as much accuracy and relevancy as possible
It’s ultimately a simple series of operations that are mostly determined by algorithms (which help the search engines identify content related to your queries and which then help the search engines organize the content found) and raw processing power.
However, search engines also work as well as they do because most people putting content on the Internet work using “SEO” or search engine optimization methods. This means that they deliberately put keywords and content in specific places or in certain formats so that search engine algorithms can find their content more effectively during the crawling stage of content collection and compilation.
Why Choose a Private Search Engine?
In this day and age, more people than ever before are aware of the potential problems and risks associated with a lack of privacy online. Identity theft is more common than ever, and people aren’t really comfortable with the government or advertisers knowing about where they go on the Internet and collecting data constantly about their movements, browsing patterns, search interests, and more.
But despite this greater than average public awareness, most people take only the barest steps to protect their privacy online. In fact, many people believe that they’re perfectly anonymous using inbuilt tools and mainstream browsers. Here are the facts:
- Most browsers’ privacy modes (or incognito modes) aren’t really private at all. While it’s true that browsers’ privacy modes don’t track your Internet behavior, any information downloaded from the Internet to your computer is still stored for later retrieval. This means that there’s still a digital trail of everywhere you go online, even while using incognito mode
- Furthermore, browser privacy or incognito modes don’t do anything to protect your Internet activity from your Internet service provider, your employer, or the websites you visit themselves. This means that the government or advertisers can still easily get your information and use it against you or to advertise to you
Even deleting your search history only deletes your history on your computer. It doesn’t erase your digital footprint from elsewhere across the Internet or any servers that you may have contacted as you visited various pages.
Search engines are particularly egregious culprits when it comes to violating users’ privacy rights. Most search engines, like Google, collect your browsing information and habits to build a profile of you. This isn’t insidious by nature – in fact, in Google’s eyes, it’s a good thing! All of that data collection helps the Google search engine provide better search results for future queries.
But Google also frequently sells your data to advertisers or otherwise doesn’t stop advertisers from collecting data such as:
- What sites you are on
- How long you stayed on certain sites
- Where your mouse lingered
- What you typed into search engines
- and more
All of this data is most often used to help ads to be more effective. For instance, most of us have experienced the eerie phenomenon where we searched for something innocuous like “cat food”, only for banner advertisements for the next week to be inundated with cat food commercials.
Private search engines are a little different. While they still use the same search engine method described above, they deliberately don’t collect any data to better tailor your search engine experience. This means that third-party advertisers can only get your information if you visit a site and accept cookies from them.
This does come with a few drawbacks. Private search engines are not as adept at creating a customized user experience, and they may not have as many tools to tailor your search engine results with greater precision. This is necessary, however, since it means they don’t collect any information to use in the future.
All in all, the mild downsides associated with private search engines are a small price to pay for better anonymity as we explore the Internet. When used in combination with other privacy-protecting measures, like VPNs and the Tor network, near-total Internet anonymity can be achieved.
All in all, the best privacy-focused search engines aren’t the mainstream options. Instead, they’re usually run by private companies or nonprofit organizations dedicated to making the Internet a safer and more anonymous place. Use these as often as you can and in no time, you’ll find personalized ads dropping off across your Internet experience.