Even though commercial search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing have conquered the world, it has become clear that the amazing services they provide come at a steep price.
It’s no secret that commercial search engines track your activity and collect your data, even if you are in incognito mode.
Google collects your browsing details and associates it with your IP address. Incognito mode only deletes cookies, while your data is still collected. You might not see your browsing history, but everybody else can.
When you really want to leave absolutely no digital footprint, you must use a private search engine.
There are numerous reasons to guard your online privacy. The most important ones are:
- Hacking risks
- Annoying personalized ads
- Data being sold to 3rd-party marketers
- Risks of government data sweeps
I reviewed the leading private search engines based on their level of protection, special features, quality of searches and software stability. Here are some of the best I found.
Privatelee is straightforward and simple to use. It is designed to be light, so as not to take up to much computer resources. It uses WOT API to protect its users’ privacy. the developers promise it will not track you, save your IP address or create unique cookies.
It offers site scanning to protect from viruses and some quick access to favorite links from the search bar.
It can be used as an add-on to Chrome or Firefox. Apparently, Privatelee takes its search results from a mix of Bing and Google together using their own algorithm to decide what are the best results to show.
Pro’s and Con’s:
Simple, useful and makes minimal use of computer resource. On the downside, it uses an HTTP address as default rather HTTPS. This can be changed, but it is a hassle and using it with HTTP reduces the level of security.
DuckDuckGo is one of the oldest and most popular private search engines. DuckDuckGo gives you high online privacy, minimal advertising and the search results are usually good.
DuckDuckGo allows you protected login into social media and the ability to search inside an external site’s data base, without having to log into that site directly.
It generates its search results from a mix of other search engines and crowdsourced sites. It doesn’t use any personal filters, so all users get the same result for a specific search term.
DuckDuckGo is a popular pairing with the Tor network, which might be a moral issue for some but definitely advantageous when privacy is a priority.
DuckDuckGo does display ads from the Yahoo–Bing network and as an affiliate to some companies.
It also offers basic search filters such as images, zones, news, or videos.
Pro’s and Con’s:
DuckDuckGo offers advanced features. If you need private access to online information you will find DuckDuckGo to be useful and provide plenty of options. On the downside, it will still bombard you with ads and some users complain about low-quality search results, especially when used for non-mainstream search terms. It is also not advisable to make it your default search engine since some users complain it will “hijack” your computer, making it difficult to switch back to other engines.
In operation since January 2009, StartPage is one of the oldest and well respected private search engines. It claims not to record users’ IP addresses.
StartPage simply logs into Google search result while hiding your personal information from Google.
It will not allow Google to know your identity and so it will protect you from tailored ads.
It does, however, show you its own ads.
Pro’s and Con’s:
StartPage is great for people who like Google results. The problems with it are that the queries are not always presented correctly, the search process is slow and the software is unstable at times.
This search engine is more functional than it is beautiful. It draws its search results from the prominent search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. You can simply choose from which engine you want to receive the results.
Its most notable feature is that doesn’t display ads at all.
Like StartPage, it allows proxy access to sites. As mentioned, this might limit access to many sites but it does make your browsing highly secure.
Another very techy option is to create a private SearX instance. Setting SearX instance on your own server is the only way to make sure your searches are not logged. Using SearX in this mode is probably the most secure way to search the web.
SearX is free software. The code is 100% open source, and it is run by volunteers who are committed to ideals of internet privacy.
Pro’s and Con’s:
SearX is fun and can be easily used by anybody, but it is a real gem for tech savvy people who care highly for their privacy. Not having ads is another unique advantage.
The downsides of SearX are simply the disadvantages of open source. It is fully reliant on volunteers, so you don’t really have anyone to turn to if bugs arise or you need support.
Probably the newest of the major private search engine, MyPrivateSearch was released less than two years ago, but has quickly gained a large and growing user base.
It gives the best results of Bing and Yahoo based on its own advanced proprietary algorithms.
Since it’s so new, MyPrivateSearch uses the latest encryption and IP scrambler technology to offer the most current online privacy protection.
However, it doesn’t give a proxy option, nor can it be used as an open source on your own machine.
MyPrivateSearch’s policy is not to keep any personal browsing information whatsoever. This claim is hard to prove, but the same is true for the claims of all private search engines.
MyPrivateSearch can be used as a Chrome extension or as an online web application.
It has the look and feel of a normal search engine but with a very high level of privacy.
Pro’s and Con’s:
If you are looking for advanced privacy options and are tech savvy enough to run an open source instance, MyPrivateSearch might not be your first choice. However, MyPrivateSearch is quick, stable, light, and gives excellent results and very good online privacy.
A quick online search will reveal at least 50 different private search engines. I selected these for review because they are both highly effective and have distinctive unique features.
I hope that reading this review will help you understand which private search engine is best for you.
In this world where the Internet of Things is close on the horizon, and where governments and marketers are ever on the look to take any possible advantage of your privacy, it is definitely the time to limit your digital footprint. Getting off the mainstream search engines is a great first step.