What are the best private search engines?

When you hear “search engine,” you probably think Google. As the most widely used option on the market, “Google” has become a verb—the brand is synonymous with the function. But while Google’s search engine can deliver very good results, it has a checkered reputation for privacy.

That’s because Alphabet is, first and foremost, an advertising company. Its browser (Chrome) and search engine (Google) are just tools to collect your data, use it to sell highly targeted ad space, and rake in profits. If you’re logged into Google, and you watch a video on YouTube, Google records it. If you use Google Maps to chart your route home, Google records it. And of course, if you search for something on google.com, Google records what you search and what you click.

With Google, the real product is you.

If you’re uncomfortable with this level of surveillance, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are alternatives. In this article, we’ll give a rundown on some of the most popular private search options.

What is a private (“no-tracking”) search engine?

A private (or “no-tracking”) search engine can deliver high-quality results without the threat of Big Tech’s surveillance, and they work in a few different ways. Some still use Google or Microsoft Bing as their core index, but build in extra privacy protections. Other options “proxy” your searches, meaning Google / Bing only see queries coming from a single server that’s not associated with you. Still others use a totally independent index of the Web, and skip Big Tech altogether.

Regardless of the method, private search engines can give search results without exposing your identity or tracking you online.

The top private search engines: a comparitive guide

While the answer may not be the same for every person, we’ve compiled a list to guide you in the right direction.

Brave Search doesn’t track you, your searches, or your clicks. And, unlike other search engines on this list, Brave serves results from an independent index of the Web. While other alternative options do offer some privacy, most still get their results from Big Tech—if Google or Bing stopped working, these other options would, too.

Brave Search doesn’t censor results, and it’s transparent about its ranking. Simply visit search.brave.com from any browser to get started.

Note: You can set Brave Search as your default search engine in the Brave browser or most other major browsers at https://search.brave.com/settings.

2. DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo (DDG) is a popular privacy search engine. Like Brave, DDG doesn’t build user profiles, so it will always show the same search results to all users. And it prevents online tracking of searches or clicks.

However, DDG depends on Yahoo! and Microsoft Bing for its search results. So if there’s unsatisfactory results in Bing, those will appear in DDG as well.

Yahoo! is a multifaceted platform, delivering search along with resources like Yahoo! Finance. Yahoo is also known to be slightly more private than Google or Bing.

4. Startpage

Startpage taps into Google’s search index, so their results look similar to Google. (This is unique, in that most other no-tracking search engines on this list are either independent or rely on Bing.) And while Startpage uses Google’s results, it doesn’t participate in extensive data collection. Specifically, Startpage adheres to more stringent European privacy standards.

By using Startpage, you can also customize your search criteria and results. Startpage does show ads, but they’re generated based on your search query rather than a user profile.

5. WolframAlpha

The WolframAlpha search engine (or self-titled “computational knowledge engine”) is unique because it claims not to collect user data or develop user profiles. Instead, the platform utilizes its own structured data sets, advanced algorithms, and natural language processes to deliver search results.

6. Ecosia

Ecosia is built on the Bing search engine but redirects search-based ad revenue to a social cause. Specifically, 80% of the money from search ads goes towards planting new trees and supporting reforestation efforts. While many support this approach, it’s important to note that search results remain tied to Bing, meaning there may still be concerns about how Microsoft is handling your data.

7. Qwant

Qwant is a privacy focused, French search engine. It prevents the creation of user-specific profiles, instead allowing those searching with Qwant to register to create a profile that generates customized ads. While this may seem counterintuitive for a private browsing experience, Qwant uses this mechanism to deliver safe, anonymous, private browsing while supporting a personalized ad experience similar to Google.

8. Gibiru

Unlike other private browsers, Gibiru uses an encrypted connection to search Google for you, scrubbing Google’s trackers. With Gibiru, you see anonymous Google search results by using a proxy mechanism.

9. Swisscows

As its name suggests, Swisscows is based in Switzerland. Its platform infrastructure is all located inside Switzerland, so it’s subject to the same EU privacy laws that govern Startpage. Swisscows uses a proprietary Web crawler to generate search results.

10. Gigablast

Gigablast uses an internal index of webpages to perform searches, which means it doesn’t repackage results from popular platforms like Google or Bing.

Search engines and your browser

Like browsers, search engines can track your search history. For the best privacy, you’ll want to use a fully integrated solution like Brave that offers both private search within a privacy-first browser. Brave Shields block third-party trackers and ads, while built-in Brave Search taps into an independent index to generate results. Even if you don’t use the Brave browser, you can still access Brave Search from any browser by visiting search.brave.com.

Related articles

How do private search engines impact advertisers?

More and more people are switching to private search engines like Brave Search, and away from Big Tech options like Google. But how do these private options affect advertisers? Can private search show useful ads, protect users, and support the continued operation of the search engine itself? In this article, a discussion of how private search engines impact ads and advertisers.

Read this article →

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