Finding a search engine that’s both effective and not hell-bent on selling on your information is hard. Fortunately, they do exist, and there are plenty of them for you to choose from.
Here are some of the best private search engines available that won’t use you as a product.
What better way to start this list than the default search engine for the Tor browser? The US-based DuckDuckGo is a fantastic choice for anyone who wants to keep their privacy intact while searching the internet.
DuckDuckGo doesn’t sell any personal information, because it never stores it in the first place. If DuckDuckGo is asked to hand over data by the government, they will comply; however, given they store no information whatsoever, it’d be a very sparse database.
Because DuckDuckGo doesn’t sell your data, it does need alternate means of making revenue. It shows you advertisements, but the ads are related to what you just searched for. They don’t track your searches to make an ad-based profile for you.
Unfortunately, DuckDuckGo uses Yahoo’s search results. This means that those used to Google’s efficient search results may find DuckDuckGo a little lackluster.
If you’d prefer a search engine that’s more like Google, try the Netherlands-based Startpage. It uses Google search results, which is great if you find DuckDuckGo’s results lacking. Startpage achieves this by paying Google for its search results, then uses them for its own service that doesn’t harvest your information.
Startpage also takes a lot of care with search recommendations. Typically, a search engine will recommend search terms as you type based on what other people are searching for. However, this does require the search engine to harvest personal information, which Startpage doesn’t support.
Instead, Startpage matches your search to terms in the dictionary, on Wikipedia, or general phrases that contain your search results. This allows Startpage to help you find what you’re looking for without resorting to harvesting prior searches.
Startpage uses a cookie on your browser to save your preferences. If you’d prefer that it didn’t create a cookie, Startpage offers an alternative: a custom URL that loads up your settings once clicked. This means even the most paranoid web surfer can simply bookmark the URL without it leaving a trace on your PC.
Searching anonymously is one thing, but what if you could also visit the pages without revealing your information? This is what Startpage does to help secure your privacy. If you click “Anonymous View” next to any search result, Startpage will route your traffic through a proxy server, so you never reveal your identity to the website. This makes Startpage one of the best anonymizing search engines available.
MetaGer is a German-based, privacy-focused, search engine. Like Startpage, MetaGer also uses proxy-server technology to hide your location when you visit a website.
When you search for a term on MetaGer, you’ll notice an additional option underneath each result called “Open Anonymously.” When clicked, MetaGer will set up a proxy server and direct the website you want through it. Because MetaGer is the source of your query, your visit remains anonymous.
Unfortunately, MetaGer is quite bare-bones for settings and options, and it uses Scopia and Bing for its search results. However, unlike some search engines, MetaGer operates as a not-for-profit organization supported by donations. This is good news for anyone who won’t trust a business that has a profit-seeking motive.
Qwant is a French-based search engine that’s packed full of features. However, some of these features require your location or your personal details. That means it’s not an ideal pick for people who want the utmost privacy.
Despite this, if you want a search engine that has it all but doesn’t store your search history, Qwant is the best free private search engine for you.
You can spot a wide range of features the moment you load its home page. Qwant has a music search engine, a “Junior” version for kids, a Maps feature, and news along the bottom of the page. From my experience, the news seemed to be somewhat local to my city, which may signal location tracking. However, it could have also been a coincidence.
You can also enable “Qoz,” a form of currency that accumulates as you search. Accumulated Qoz converts into a donation to a charitable cause at the end of every month—a nice side effect of using Qwant.
All of these features do raise a question: how does Qwant run these features while also respecting your privacy? For the Qoz feature, Qwant says they don’t track what you search, just how many times you searched. For some, this amount of tracking is enough to put them off using the feature. Thankfully, you can disable Qoz if you don’t like the idea of your searches being tallied.
However, if you don’t mind a little additional tracking in exchange for some more features, Qwant does fill a niche without selling your details on. This makes Qwant a nice “midway point” between the humble privacy-respecting search engines and the extravagant, powerful, yet financially-driven ones.
You may have noticed a pattern with the previous search engines, where they rely on other, more powerful search engines to get results. If this is a major problem for you, you might prefer a search engine that generates its own results.
This is what Mojeek, a UK-based search engine, does best. Instead of utilizing somebody else’s search engine, Mojeek uses their own to ensure that your privacy is respected. As a result, the search results you get won’t be perfect; after all, Mojeek has to contend with the competition that has been around for years!
Despite this, Mojeek is the best private web search engine for results that aren’t influenced by a larger company. Mojeek themselves call their search results “independent and unbiased,” which should resonate with people who don’t want larger companies sculpting their browsing experience.
Startpage vs. DuckDuckGo
The two big giants in the private search world are Startpage and DuckDuckGo. We have already covered what they can do by themselves, but how do they hold up against one another?
If you like the idea of a built-in proxy for anonymous browsing, the winner is Startpage. Its ability to load a proxy server in moments and view the webpage in secret is extremely valuable for people with privacy concerns.
Also, Startpage did seem to get better results as a whole. This is likely due to Startpage using Google’s search algorithms, while DuckDuckGo has to rely on Yahoo.
However, DuckDuckGo wins in one category: it’s open source. Unlike Startpage which locks their search behind proprietary code, you can check for yourself if DuckDuckGo is as private as they claim to be. DuckDuckGo’s GitHub page contains all its code, available to anyone who want to compile it.
As a result, Startpage’s search results and built-in proxy server make it a formidable private search engine. On the other hand, DuckDuckGo lays everything bare so you can see what’s going on under the hood. In the end, it’s up to you to decide what search engine is best.
The Best Private Search Engines for Your Needs
If you’re big on privacy, you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of search engines that respect your private data. Not only that, but they each bring something new to the table, which means there’s a search engine out there for everyone’s needs.
If you’d like to see how these search engines go up against a technological giant, be sure to read our comparison of DuckDuckGo vs. Google .
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