Are you looking for a secure search alternative to Google? We've rounded up seven of the best to allow you to browse the web without tracking.
If you are reading this, then you have probably learned enough about online privacy and security to know that every letter that you ever typed into Google's search engine got recorded and studied by the tech giant's teams.
Google likes collecting as much data as it possibly can and analysing it for clues regarding your interests. That way, it can offer you better ads, and there is a higher chance that you might buy something.
It's questionable, but it may even offer a better service.
However, people tend to value their privacy, which is why most of us choose to shift to a secure alternative search engine upon realising just how appreciative of information Google is.
If you're looking for a secure alternative to Google then in this article, I'll be exploring seven of the top options.
Leading secure Search Engines
There's now plenty of choices when it comes to search engines, but finding a secure one that won't track you is more complicated.
Below are our top seven choices.
DuckDuckGo is probably the best-known and most popular alternative to Google these days.
Searchers use it mostly for privacy, which is among the biggest reasons for its popularity. On the surface, it looks and acts similar to Google, which is why a lot of people feel comfortable with it.
However, beneath the surface, its method of operation is quite different.
While Google tends to collect and use your data for different purposes – sometimes to help users, sometimes to improve itself – DuckDuckGo does not store your personal information.
They neither collect it nor share it. DuckDuckGo also doesn't follow you with ads, nor does it track you in a private browsing mode. It is one of the best choices if you seek greater privacy.
We and others highly recommend it. It makes a great alternative to Google and they've got Android and iOS apps available.
Feature Spotlight: Bangs
Bangs is a neat little feature that speeds up your searches by linking directly to the search results from other sites. All you have to do is type in a simple code for another site at the start of your search and DuckDuckGo will automatically redirect to the search results of that site.
For example, if you search ‘!VPN’, DuckDuckGo will automatically take you to the results of a search for any term on our website.
There are more than 13,500 sites with established Bangs codes on DuckDuckGo. It is a unique feature and makes your browsing experience as fast as it can be.
Then, there is Ask. Most internet users will have stumbled across Ask sooner or later, and you may remember it as ‘Ask Jeeves'.
What you might not have known is that Ask offers some decent privacy options, such as the feature to erase all of the data, and prevent anyone from tracking you.
However, you will have to remember to do it yourself, and Ask will still try to track you, similarly to Google, unless you delete it, so it's not entirely on the same level as DuckDuckGo or StartPage.
But, unlike Google, it gives you an option to delete all of the data and keep your privacy intact. In other words, it all comes down to you and your desire for privacy.
If you wish, you can get rid of it all, or leave a bit for Ask to collect and analyse.
The service is decent enough, easy to use, and it brings back useful search results, so you might consider switching to it as well.
Feature Spotlight: Answers
A slight hangover from the Ask Jeeves days, but Ask’s results are still referred to as Answers. You will notice a few different results when you run a search through Ask these days.
If you input a question, you will see your answers are broken down by different variances of your question followed by results using that precise phrase.
It is a neat little tool to help you get to the most reliable source as fast as possible.
Finally, we have Swisscows – a private search engine based in Switzerland.
Switzerland is one of the countries with the most exceptional security and privacy awareness in the entire world. You can see this in their products, as well as their laws.
It is safe to say that almost anything that the country comes up with can be trusted.
Swisscows does very well when it comes to security and privacy. It does not track or collect your data, and it has a Swiss Fort Knox data centre for its server infrastructure.
It provides excellent results, although they mostly source them from Bing. Finally, this is an excellent option if you are interested in primarily reaching family-friendly content.
It is a suitable choice for children, as it stands up for moral values and digital media research, while it does not tolerate pornography or violence.
Feature Spotlight: Semantic Maps
One fairly prominent feature of the Swisscows search engine is its semantic maps. These brightly coloured boxes which appear at the side of your search results feature a range of key words related to your original search terms.
They are bit like the results of a game of associated words and, while you may not use them often, they can be a really useful feature when trying to define a vague search term.
Qwant is a French-based search engine that generates results that are powered by Microsoft’s Bing but also supplemented by results from its own web crawler.
It is a privacy-friendly tool that doesn’t collect any data and makes no use of tracking cookies whatsoever.
Even better, it dissociates your search from your IP address. This means that even if you aren’t connected to a VPN at the time of your search, it should still be rendered anonymous.
Qwant is based in the EU and so is GDPR-compliant but as France is a member of the Nine-Eyes intelligence group of countries, so you should be a little wary.
It is also not the most feature-heavy of search engines and some of its results, especially on local searches, can leave a bit to be desired.
But if privacy is more important to you, Qwant delivers.
Feature Spotlight: Search Shortcuts
One feature that Qwant does offer is search shortcuts.
This works rather like DuckDuckGo’s Bang’s feature. If you input a code for a particular website at the start of your search, Qwant will automatically redirect you to results from that website.
For example, if you search for ‘&w VPN’ you will be redirected to Wikipedia’s VPN page. As with DuckDuckGo, this is a great tool for making your search as fast as possible.
MetaGer is a German-based, open-source search engine that pulls results from a range of different search engines including Bing, Yahoo!, Yandex, and its own web crawler.
It is operated by a German non-profit organisation known as the Association for Free Access to Knowledge. Like StartPage, MetaGer converts search requests into anonymous queries through a proxy server which allows it to offer the same anonymous viewing option.
While you will see a few ads on MetaGer, you do have the option for become a paid member for 100% ad-free content.
Feature Spotlight: Onion site
As well as its regular search engine site, MetaGer also hosts a .onion site.
This is a hidden service which uses the Tor network for enhanced user privacy. If you want to search the internet with total anonymity, this page is a cast-iron option to do just that with all the security that the Tor network has to offer.
Ecosia will collect your search data alongside personal information such as your IP Address.
This personal data is only deleted after seven days and Ecosia says all this data is only used to improve its web services. However, it does share the information with Bing too and Microsoft’s reputation for data privacy is far from robust.
What Ecosia does do well is boost your green credentials.
Internet companies contribute huge amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and Google is inevitably one of the worst offenders. Ecosia donates 80% of its profits to tree-planting projects which means it plants a tree for around every 50 searches; around 94 million so far apparently.
This is great for the environment but when it comes to user privacy, Ecosia is still somewhat lacking.
Feature Spotlight: Video resolution search
Ecosia’s layout will be familiar to Google users but one neat feature can be found under the Videos tab.
Here, you can search for videos by resolution. This means you can select the minimum resolution for your video results. Options are 480p, 720p, 1080p, or any resolution. So if you need a high-quality video, Ecosia can help you find one faster.
Last, there is StartPage, formerly known as ixquick, which makes the bold claim as “The world's most private search engine”.
It is similar to DuckDuckGo, in a sense that it does not store any personal data of its users or more importantly, your search queries.
However, it is still capable of providing you with a top-quality service thanks to the fact that it takes your search, and it runs it through Google. When Google brings the information back, StartPage sends it on until it reaches you.
In a way, it is like using Google, but with StartPage acting as a user friendly security layer between you and Google itself.
That way, your IP address does not get tracked, you do not have issues with cookies, and Google has no idea who is searching behind the security of StartPage. This is why it is one of the best choices for those who seek Google's search technology but also privacy.
We previously recommended Startpage much higher but after being bought by an advertising company we've dropped them down to last spot as there are many unanswered questions.
Feature Spotlight: Anonymous View
When you run a search in StartPage, you will see that all the non-sponsored results feature an option called ‘Anonymous View’ after the results URL.
Clicking on this link means you can visit the site completely anonymously with no tracking cookies, social media tracking pixels, website fingerprinting, or any other privacy-busting features being used against you.
The website and your ISP only sees that you are visiting StartPage.com. You can even navigate around on the site and remain in Anonymous mode.
What is the best way to search the internet privately?
Searching the internet privately has become a significant focus these days, as the awareness of information collecting and tracking continues to grow.
The best way of doing it is by using one of the private search engines, like the ones listed above. They will keep your privacy safe and not collect any data from you or your searches.
An additional method you can use is a VPN service to protect yourself.
With a VPN, all of your traffic will be encrypted and shielded by security protocols, and not even Google will be able to see and record your real IP address, as a fake one will replace it.
ExpressVPN is the best choice, as it has excellent privacy and security features, but also fast download speeds, and a massive selection of IP addresses and servers.
Just remember that even if you are using a VPN if you log into Google or another search service, then your search history and interests can still be recorded.
Is StartPage a VPN?
No, StartPage is another secure search engine made by ixquick, as mentioned earlier.
It offers pretty much the same privacy settings and features as ixquick itself did. That means not having to worry about cookies, IP address, and alike. Even so, there are differences, such as the way StartPage displays the results.
If you want to learn more about what a VPN is, then our handy beginner's guide to VPN will tell you all you need to know.
What is the most secure search engine?
There is not a simple way to measure or answer this.
All search engines that put your privacy first have their strengths and weaknesses, and pointing out the best one as a fact is not possible.
Some of them may feel better to you than others, but in the end – the choice is yours.
There are many others, apart from the ones mentioned on this list and although we rate these as the best, it pays to do your research and consult multiple sources.
Which search engine is best for user privacy?
Any search engine that does not record your searches and data, and does not bombard you with cookies and ads can be considered suitable for your privacy.
Take DuckDuckGo as an example – the service collects absolutely nothing, and you can use it safely, all the while knowing that no one is collecting your information and creating a profile about your likes and dislikes for ad targeting and other nefarious purposes.
All of the services we listed above are good, only keep in mind that Ask might try to track your browsing, but it also gives you the ability to delete it all and prevent it from doing so.
Why do people prefer Google over DuckDuckGo?
The fact is that Google does its job well, even though it collects your data. It's also become a household name.
How many times have you heard the phrase “Google it” or “I'll Google it” as a generic meaning for searching for something?
Besides, most people do see any immediate consequences as a result of Google's data collecting. Many would argue that they never got in trouble with the law, lost friends, or had issues at their job because Google collects their data.
As long as it does not directly affect their lives, people do not tend to care, which is not the most positive of attitudes, but it does make it understandable, and we are mostly all guilty of this out of sight, out of mind mentality.
Add the fact that Google is familiar, and that it has been around for years, and it is easy to understand why people don't bother to shift.
Does Google track your browser history?
Unfortunately, yes, but only if you are using Google Chrome.
Google was quick to put out its browser and start dominating when it comes to all kinds of services. The fact that all Google products work simply kept attracting people. However, it also allowed Google to keep collecting your data.
It can even collect your browsing history if you are logged in, so if that is one of your concerns – keep that in mind.
When using Chrome, Google will not only have access to what you search but also a whole detailed history of every site you visit. In this case, you may want to make use of a different web-browser.
Can we trust Google?
The answer to that depends on you and every other individual user.
Google collects user information, yes.
It analyses it, stores it, and uses it for targeting you with ads. It tracks your phone, and it can tell where you are, where you have been, and what you did online.
With some 84% of mobile phone searches done through Google alone, it pays to take note. Desktop searches are reportedly even higher.
However, while much of appears to be done for improving the quality of service, it is also used to tailor targeting to you.
It delivers better results, it shows you relevant ads, and it simply makes using it worthwhile. But, it still tracks you and stores your data, so it is up to you to decide if you can live with the privacy implications for the ease of use it provides.
Google is the world's biggest search engine, but its business model is one that stores every scrap of your data it can find.
It understands the importance of information, and it collects it and uses it for providing a better service. While this is great for the user experience, many have a problem with that, which is why you might want to shift towards a secure search engine.
Google is a business, and it uses the tools at its disposal to do what it does best. It takes things in return as well, but that is how companies work.
Whether or not this is a problem for you is your decision to make. If you choose that it is – there are plenty of alternatives, seven of which we've listed above.
Choose one and enjoy searching the web more securely than before.
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