If you’re wondering why you keep seeing home improvement ads after searching the price of vinyl tiles a few days ago, you’re about to find out. Popular search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing are also data brokers. Since the time you opened your browser and created your profile, these companies have been collecting your data in the guise of giving a personalized web experience. They are actually using your profile to make targeted ads, or they sell your data to other advertisers.
As data collection has become a global privacy issue, your first line of defence should be a VPN. It encrypts your traffic, making it impossible for anyone to gather data about you, and giving false data to search engines (especially location data). Second, there are private search engines that don’t perform user profiling and data collection.
The best private search engines
Whether you’re using a VPN to stay anonymous online or not, you may want to explore these private search engines we have checked out for you. Take note that if you are not using a VPN, your web browser will automatically send information about your computer (your real IP address and user agent, among others) to any website, including the following private search engines.
Also, when you click on any of the search results, you will be redirected to a website outside of the search engine, and this website will log your personal data.
DuckDuckGo is currently the most popular private search engine with 20 million searches per day. It also boasts more than 27 billion anonymous searches over their 11 years in the industry. DuckDuckGo started merely as a search engine that doesn’t track users. In 2018, it introduced apps for iOS and Android devices. Nowadays, it can now be added as a browser extension.
However, there are certain things about this search engine that make privacy advocates raise their eyebrows:
- DuckDuckGo’s revenues are from ads and affiliate sites like eBay and Amazon, which are both data collectors.
- DuckDuckgo saves search histories although it claims that these searches can’t be traced directly back to you.
In an interview with Wired, DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg said in defense that they don’t need to know a user’s personal details to be able to target them with ads. “If you type in ‘car’ you get a car ad, if you type in ‘mortgage’ you get a mortgage ad,” Weinberg said. Despite the doubts, the statistics above show that a lot of people are using the search engine. Still, we recommend using a VPN while “going over to the duck side.”
Searx.me is an open-source search engine that gathers search results from other, more popular search engines. When you type a search term on Searx.me, it sends your request to Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines after stripping your metadata of personal details. This means that Searx.me sends your request without your IP address and other identifying data.
The search engine relies on donations as its source of revenue. Searx.me doesn’t show any ads, but users are asked for donations. There are links to a donation page on every search results page and in other pages within Searx.me. You can also see a list of all anonymous donations received by the company on the donations page.
From its appearance, Searx.me seems trustworthy enough. It doesn’t earn from ads, so it doesn’t save your searches. It’s also open-source; you can even download the source code from GitHub and customize it as you see fit, as shown in the video below:
The search engine also features an advanced settings page. You can customize it from there instead of downloading the code. If you use Firefox, you can add the Searx extension. For other browsers, you have to go to the Searx.me home page.
Disconnect Search lets you choose between Yahoo, Bing, and DuckDuckGo as the source of your search results.
If you’re looking for a VPN service, and are concerned about logging, check out the two VPN providers below as they are high-quality and logless.
[affilioProvider max=”2″ top=”n” cat=’nologs’]
StartPage describes itself as the world’s most private search engine. It works the same way as other private search engines by making you anonymous while giving you the search results you need. StartPage uses Google as the source search engine, so you are basically searching on Google anonymously.
To remain anonymous, even if you click on a search result and get redirected to another site, StartPage has developed the Anonymous View feature. Both the search engine and Anonymous View are free to use. The StartPage earns money by displaying ads on the search results page. StartPage also has a private, encrypted email product that costs around $60 per year.
Qwant search results are from the Bing network. While it works the same way as the other search engines above, it also acts like any social networking site. Users can log in, post on Qwant boards, and interact with fellow users.
The search engine also earns from ads that are powered by Microsoft Bing. Microsoft is not really known to be an advocate of user privacy, so we feel that Qwant is not too private after all.
Qwant’s popularity can be attributed to the support of the French government. First, Qwant developed a child-friendly version in partnership with the French Ministry of Education. Then in 2018, the French government declared that Qwant would be their default search engine instead of Google.
Still, the fact that Qwant is heavily associated with Microsoft should be a cause for concern. You’re better off if you don’t register, or if you use a VPN while on Qwant.
Search engines that collect your data
Any of the five private search engines listed above are better than the popular ones that are known to collect user data. We’re talking about Google, Bing, Yahoo, AOL, Ask.com, Baidu, and other big search engines that are also data brokers. Unfortunately, these are also the default search engine of most Internet users.
To protect your privacy and security, you just have to tweak some of your habits. Consider changing your default search engine to any of the private search engines we mentioned above. For utmost protection, check out these digital security tools we’ve compiled.
What search engines know about you
Popular search engines collect data like your IP address, search terms, which search result you click on, how soon you go back to the search results page, how you modify your search terms, and a lot more.
Browsers also collect and store your location, ISP, and even the software and hardware details of your device. You can test out what your current browser knows about you by going to this page on our website.
It’s safe to say that these companies know more about you than any other person in the world. They know the medical conditions you’re concerned with, the products and the variants you prefer, the restaurants you’ve been to or are planning to go to, the places you want to go, your redecoration plans, and all other intricate details about you.
The good news is that more and more Internet users are becoming wary of search engines that collect data. Users are now willing to use a search engine that doesn’t track them. This is reflected in a survey conducted by DuckDuckGo:
Preventing data collection
Data collection is a big business. The sad part is Internet users—like you—are the product. While there’s no way to opt out of search engine data collection, there are ways to prevent it. We’ve discussed two of them here:
- Private search engines: The best private search engine options won’t collect your data, and even better ones will actively strip your data from results.
- VPN: This solution provides overall protection for you. Not only will it protect your searches from people trying to spy on you, it also protects everything you do on the Internet, whether it’s on a browser, search engine, or an application.
— Chris Wayne (@chrisITproVPN) September 4, 2017
These two are more effective when used together, and you can learn more about VPNs in this article. The best thing a VPN can do for you is to keep your data secure so that browsers, search engines, and data brokers can no longer collect all of your personal information. At the same time, VPNs allow you to bypass censorship and avoid Internet throttling.