Now, more than ever, privacy is on everyone’s lips. It’s just one disaster after another these days, but it was 2018’s Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook scandal that really created a newfound wariness for many internet users. But it is search engines like Google that are the biggest concern, in large part due to how big an influence they have on how we use the internet.
The issue is that the popular search engine – and even the obvious substitutes like Bing, Yahoo, or Ask – all track and collect your most precious data such as your IP address, search history, cookies and more. But luckily there are others that are concerned about privacy, and are creating tools that won’t use your information for targeted advertising and instead seek to offer more secure alternatives.
Despite its rather ridiculous name, DuckDuckGo is perhaps the most well-known privacy-focused search engine. Great effort is taken to ensure that none of your data is tracked, which means no personally identifiable data, no search history, and no search leakage due to server request rerouting. There are ads – which can be disabled in the settings – but they’re based only on the immediate terms entered and therefore aren’t targeted at you.
As far as engines go, DuckDuckGo is probably the closest to a Google experience with tools for adjusting search results to your needs, such as filtering for images, videos, or quick definitions or “meanings” – essentially important references.
There are a number of defining features of Startpage that could well lead to it being the go-to private search engine in the coming years. Little things like the fact that it uses Google’s search results but without the data tracking, avoids the filter bubble of recommended searches, and can allow users to save the preferred settings through a URL rather than a stored cookie are all important, but it’s the Anonymous Mode that really sells this engine.
Terming itself as an ‘answer engine’, Swisscows favors the modern approach of using AI-driven, semantic-based searching to find the information that users are looking for, the sort popularized through use of Siri or Alexa. But, crucially, the only data that Swisscows tracks is how many search requests are conducted daily. No IP address, no browser info, no details about location. Nothing.
Since its developer Hulbee is based in Switzerland there’s no need to be concerned about your data being handed over to the authorities, either. And on top of this strong personal security are features like its grid of prompts for refining searches or the easy way of targeting locational results, which help add extra functionality.
This engine is definitely worth a mention for two reasons. The first is that SearX is a metasearch engine, meaning it combines search engines together rather than relying on just one. The other is that it is open source, which means it is developed – for free – by a community of users that are also passionate about online privacy; its codebase is open for all to see.
It’s also open for anyone to edit, which does admittedly make it better suited to the techheads of the world. Nowhere is this flexibility better demonstrated than with the advanced search, which allows tweaks to obvious things like location and timeframe of searched content to the types of sites to find results from.
Compared to the others on this list, there’s less to say about Qwant. It maintains a no-log policy for its users and does allow for secure, non-tracked accounts for saving settings, but that’s kind of standard for private search engines. Qwant does promise to remove any account details within seven days of request, too.
Qwant is a little friendlier for the casual user, though, with more color and better use of tabs and discovery boxes. But most interesting is Qwant Junior and its educational equivalent, which provides concerned parents with a safe environment for their children to browse the web free of data monitoring.
By evolving the concept of searching to allow for previews for each website within the search results, Peekier is taking a brave step. This means you’re better informed about what you’ll be clicking on before entering the site, and since Peekier can’t protect you on a third-party website this is a strong advantage to have.
It’s a very sleek engine, too, with a lot of popping menus and fading-in results. YouTube videos can be embedded and played within the results as well, though this obviously won’t protect from Google’s ID tracking systems. This is all in addition to the standard no-log and no-cookie policies, of course.
The VPN Approach
All this is well and good, but remember that in most cases private search engines will only keep you secure within the confines of the website; once you click through to a third-party website, you’re back out in the open. For this reason, it’s safest to always enable a VPN connection when doing searches. In fact, a good VPN – like CyberGhost – contribute to higher online privacy thanks to their heavy encryptions and specially designed protocols.
Having a VPN active while searching guarantees anonymity and privacy. Regardless of the search engine in use, a good VPN will block any attempts at data tracking since your information is encrypted and you’ll appear connected to a foreign server, so there is no way for a company to see what you are searching for.
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