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’s not at all good on user privacy.
Google is an advertising company. Its browser (Chrome) and search engine are just tools to collect data—your data—and then use it to sell highly targeted ad space. And rake in massive 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 searched and what you clicked.
With Google, the real product is you.
If you’re uncomfortable with this level of surveillance, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are search engines that don’t track you. In this article, we’ll dig deeper on how search engines like Google track you online, and offer some private alternatives.
What is a “no-tracking” search engine?
First, let’s clear up a common misconception: While there are some easy things you can do to limit what Google collects, like changing preferences so that Google doesn’t track your search history, these are only a superficial fix. Private or “incognito” browsing windows are no fix either—these just hide browsing (and search) history on your device. To really block Google from tracking your online activity, you’ll need to switch to a no-tracking search engine.
These “no-tracking” search engines deliver high-quality results without the threat of Big Tech’s surveillance, and they can 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, no-tracking search engines can give search results without exposing your identity or tracking you online. By eliminating data collection, no-tracking search engines distinguish themselves from Google and Bing by eliminating user profiles. And without user profiles, targeted data collection is no longer possible.
What are the best no-tracking search engines?
While the answer may not be the same for every person, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list to guide you in the right direction.
1. Brave Search
Brave Search doesn’t track you, your searches, or your clicks. And, unlike other search engineers 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: Users can set Brave Search as their default search engine in the Brave browser or most other major browsers at https://search.brave.com/settings.
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, note that DDG depends on Microsoft Bing for its search results. So if there’s unsatisfactory results in Bing, those will appear in DDG as well.
3. Yahoo! Search
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.
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.
The WolframAlpha search engine is unique because it claims not to collect user data or develop user profiles. Instead, the platform utilizes advanced algorithms and natural language processes to deliver search results.
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-based 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.
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.
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.
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.
Gigablast uses an internal index of web pages 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.