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5 Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy

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Google, Bing, Yahoo – all the major search engines track your search history and build profiles on you, serving different results based on your search history. Try one of these alternative search engines if you’re tired of being tracked.

Google now encrypts your search traffic when you’re logged in, but this only prevents third-parties from snooping on your search traffic – it doesn’t prevent Google from tracking you.

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a popular search engine for the privacy-conscious. As its privacy page says, DuckDuckGo doesn’t log any personally identifiable information. DuckDuckGo doesn’t use cookies to identify you, and it discards user agents and IP addresses from its server logs. DuckDuckGo doesn’t event attempt to generate an anonymized identifier to tie searches together – DuckDuckGo has no way of knowing whether two searches even came from the same computer.

Its home page is simple and clean – even more so than Google’s.

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Because DuckDuckGo knows nothing about you, it can’t serve different results to different users. You’ll get the same results as everyone else.

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DuckDuckGo’s donttrack.us page explains search engine tracking and DuckDuckGo’s approach in an entertaining way.

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Startpage

If you prefer Google’s search results and just want more privacy, try Ixquick’s Startpage. Startpage searches Google for you – when you submit a search, Startpage submits the search to Google and returns the results to you. All Google sees is a large amount of searches coming from Startpage’s servers – they can’t tie any searches to you or track your searches.

Startpage discards all personally identifiable information. Like DuckDuckGo, Startpage doesn’t use cookies, it immediately discards IP addresses, and it doesn’t keep a record of searches performed.

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If you’ve heard of Scroogle – a Google scraper that no longer exists – Startpage is a similar service.

Startpage also includes a proxy feature — you can open a page in Ixquick’s proxy directly from the search results. This is slower than normal browsing, but websites won’t be able to see your IP address. The proxy also disables JavaScript to protect your privacy.

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Ixquick

Ixquick is the main search engine from the company that runs Startpage. Unlike Startpage, Ixquick pulls results from a variety of sources instead of only Google – this can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how much you like Google’s search results.

Ixquick and Startpage have essentially the same design. Ixquick includes the same privacy features Startpage does, including the Ixquick proxy links in the search results.image

Blekko

Blekko doesn’t go as far as DuckDuckGo and Ixquick, but it’s still a big improvement over Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Blekko does log personally identifiable information, but deletes it within 48 hours. In contrast, Google stores this information for 9 months – and then anonymizes it without actually deleting it.

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You can disable the data collection entirely by enabling the SuperPrivacy setting. Blekko even lets you disable ads entirely.

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Ask.com – AskEraser

Ask.com offers an optional AskEraser feature that you can enable from its Settings page. When you enable this feature, Ask.com will set a single cookie in your browser – indicating that AskEraser is enabled – and delete all other Ask.com cookies. With AskEraser enabled, Ask.com won’t store your search history except in rare circumstances.

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Ask.com does clarify that your search history will be stored if a critical error occurs (logging will resume until the problem is solved) or if law enforcement asks Ask.com to log your search activity.


To surf anonymously everywhere — at the cost of slower browsing speed — try the Tor Browser Bundle.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 05/9/12

Comments (39)

  1. Phil

    Fantastic! Thanks for this!

  2. Rob

    I’ve been using duckduckgo for a good 2 months now. I set it to be my default search engine for Chrome (the browser I used most often for regular surfing)

    It does a good job, and I like the fact that it doesn’t alter search results. If I find myself needing google image search, I just need to put !gi at the end of my search string. There are many other operators like that, too.

    I don’t ever use google for standard web searching anymore.

  3. Ben

    I find it funny how many self important people are out there that are worried google collects information about them.

  4. cam2644

    #Ben. It’s not “self important” to protect yourself against targeted advertising which could distort your search results and your private data being used,passed on or hacked by others.

  5. badger_fruit

    Ben,

    I don’t think it’s so much the collection of your data that bothers people, more that Google et al are shaping results based on your previous searches; this way you’re not getting ‘true’ results, just targetted ones (and targetted adverts of course)

    As there is no “opt in” or “opt out” policy that I know of with Google etc, having the knowledge of what they collect (who actually knows!) and how to avoid this collection is appreciated.

  6. withanamelikedave

    DuckDuckGo is great. Although, I do admit that for some searches, Google’s results are much better. As already mentioned, you can get Google results by adding !g, or !yt for youtube…it’s pretty sweet and fantastic.

    The main problem with DuckDuckGo is that there isn’t a verb for it that rolls off the tongue. Like ‘Google it!’…’Duck it!’ …”DDG it!”.

  7. thegeekkid

    @Ben:
    There are actually companies that take that data and compile it and create “stereotypes” about you. Let’s say you are writing a book about fire, and you Google “arson” a couple times. Those companies then take that to mean that you want to burn someone’s house down, and they can sell that information to other companies. There is no law against that, nor is there any way that you can find what information they “think” they know about you until it’s too late.

    @Rob:
    You don’t want to use Google search because it tracks you, but you use Chrome for most regular surfing? Isn’t that kind of counterproductive???

  8. Citrus Rain

    On one hand, it really doesn’t matter if they track you as long as you stop and think: “Does the data they’re going to get from me matter?” And in the case of Facebook knowing my email’s address book snuck from another website (hotmail at the time) to try and get me to friend some guy in England, no. In the case of Google also has my gmail, okay. In the case of Google doesn’t sneak my information from another location, and only uses what I say it can use (by searching it) – well, that’s a service.

    But then again… I’m tired of ALL my searches no matter WHAT they are… have ponies. I search for something, anything… and it includes ponies somewhere in my image search results. I click, and it perpetuates. Last time I did a search on something that didn’t have ponies in the results, I got excited and posted about it on G+. That was 3 months ago. And was the only time since last summer ended.

  9. rob k

    I like DuckDuckGo the problem is that it’s still too long to type quickly. Google, Yahoo, Ask, and Bing (to name a few of the popular ones) are short enough to type quickly. Bookmarking, defaulting (and evening assigning a shortcut key) is one way but “fix” this but with everyone wanting things fast and easy the URL is just too long. Just MHO. :-)

  10. EntrepreNerd

    I love and make heavy use of my search history in Google. It is a feature I would not willingly give up. Besides, if I was that worried about my “privacy” or being “tracked” I would just stop using the internet, because even if you use DuckDuckGo your ISP is tracking ever search you make. At least Google provides me the ability to use encrypted search so my ISP can not “spy” on me.

    At the end of the day I trust Google more than any other company, as much as you can trust a corporation.

  11. Cambo

    I agree with EntrepreNerd.

    The search history is big for me. I don’t mind it tracking me. It’s not like Google employees are actually reading it. Machines are.

    Your credit card company knows FAR more about you, and your spending habits than Google does. Your ISP logs far more, so switching to a search engine such as DDG, won’t do you much good in the way of privacy anyway.

    You’re NEVER anonymous on the internet. The only way, is not to use it at all.

  12. pete1229

    I am thinking Ben works for Google!

  13. Pegleg

    You all should read the article in PC magazine…. the May edition and you will see what Google or any other search engine do with the information they get out of your everyday search….
    it’s scary, but we never think twice about it.

  14. tremenjis

    DuckDuckGo: we don’t track you, we SELL you to the microsoft advertisers. lol. would’ve been good if no ads at all on the result pages.

  15. sentinal

    Google is nice but i’m bored with it…And i find DuckDuckGo to be amazing Alternative of Google….You might love to read about : http://goo.gl/HKL3P

  16. dusanmal

    @Ben (what @cam2644 and @badger_fruit followups have not covered): there are many levels of why Google data collection and tabulation is not about “importance” of particular person but consequences. Targeted ads mentioned by @cam2644 are just a very top (and for many acceptable top) of the iceberg. Problem is that Google wants to earn money off you way beyond targeting ads. Goal is in both directions: a) to manipulate you, knowing your every step it is easier to nudge you in wanted [Google income] direction b) to manipulate what is available to you [with percentage for Google]. If we continue on their slippery slope following may happen to careless Google user: you have and like Chevy’. You are in market for a new car. However, Ford is willing to pay to steal you from Chevy’ customer base. Right now it is a matter of marketing inconsequential to anyone with a backbone and you can fight for a good deal either way. In Google future, knowledge database enables it that you get either very high price for what you really want (Chevy’ – they know from Google that they have you – they aim for greater profit) or good deal on what you do not want (Ford). Notice that because of the database about “unimportant you” other options may be GONE. There may be no way to ever get a good deal on Chevy’ you like. Or house, insurance, flight, vacation,… It will cost you (with a lot of difference dribbling into Google pockets).
    To underline further @badger_fruit argument: it is quite OK if Google offers targeted ad on a side of a best search results derived just from your exact query. They must earn money for such good service. It is also perfectly fine to collect population data so that they can get ads from companies interested in those populations. It is abhorrent and dangerous when Google creates a feedback loop between long term tabulated data about your particular online behavior, their business partners and your current search (targeted ad may as well be gone) providing you at the end with results that are NOT the best for what you wanted but best for what their business interest dictates. In pre-internet world that would have been called swindle. Hence any targeted individual data collection is not acceptable. Proof that they are interested in individual, not population: why is there a third party Google cookie on other sites? All (acceptable) population data can be collected by a first party cookie. The ONLY reason for a third party (Google or other) cookie is individual tracking across the sites, this is absolutely not needed for population data.

  17. Rafael

    I consider “myself Important”, just as important as “self Respect”. For those whom don’t consider themselves important, it is your right to be a little less. And yes it looks like Ben does work for Google.

  18. Rafael

    Note us important people always use howtogeek.

  19. Nitish Dhiman

    I like all these private search engines and the way they work its amazing. i did not know about these search engines before.

  20. Matt

    Don’t forget you can use !bang on duckduckgo also. Like !google gives you a google search

  21. lilsting10

    How do I search for images in duckduckgo?
    Do they offer an ‘image search’ feature?

  22. Plais

    Sounds like Dusanmal works for Google…

  23. Brent Pittman

    Can I submit sitemaps to these sites of my website so it can be crawled?

  24. PrivacyLover

    Your ISP can’t track squat if you use a VPN service. I find it amazing that people think you *can’t be anonymous on the net???

    PrLo

  25. Brain

    @rob k: The shorthand URL for DuckDuckGo is ddg.gg – is that not short enough for you? :P

    @EntrepreNerd: “even if you use DuckDuckGo your ISP is tracking [every] search you make.” – Completely false. First of all, ISPs generally only keep connection logs of IP addresses and timestamps… not intricately detailed traffic data. More importantly, DDG has exactly the same SSL-encrypted search capability as Google does. Furthermore, they use the POST method instead of the GET method, which means that the search string doesn’t even appear in the requested URL string. In other words, even if your ISP was keeping detailed logs of request URLs, there would be no record of your actual search query anyway.

    @Cambo: “You’re NEVER anonymous on the internet.” – Nonsense. I guess you’ve never heard of open WI-FI, Tor, VPNs, or anonymous proxies? It’s actually quite easy to be anonymous on the internet if you’re willing to learn.

  26. Bernard

    Thanks for these. When I check how my websites are doing in Google I get manipulated resulsts so I don’t know how accurate they are. Checking today in duckduckgo and startpage shows them on the firt page.

    Thanks

  27. rbouvet

    Thanks for you tip Rob, I had no idea something so simple as that, would improve my search. I’m using it and telling others. Thanks again.

  28. lefty.crupps

    I find it sad that people chose not to search via Google, but still use Chrome, which tracks users and behaviour via DNS lookups. Mozilla fights for consumer privacy and is a not-for-profit, doing good for the internet at large, yet people walk away the moment Google dangles something free in front of them.

  29. Deron

    My supermarket knows far more about me than any of these companies. Still I keep using their card because the discount’s significant and it causes them to send me coupons I can actually use. Still groceries, pharmaceuticals and now even gas usage is recorded.

    I do appreciate this column as I have grown tired of the, “google does x, so try Microsoft,” either all writers are 22 years old or they’ve forgotten what life was like when MS ruled all. I now exercise my inner geek by going to the Microsoft store and changing all the browser search preferences to DuckDuckGo.

    I’ve tried DuckDuckGo, but the results weren’t as good, which leads me to believe that I actually like my results customized. I don’t find it pernicious, there’s a reason why I consume the media that feeds my biases. I like it that way, and I suspect that I’m not the exception in this regard.

    I’ll give StartPage a try, but I’m curious… why mention AskEraser, isn’t it essentially the same as using Chrome/IE/Firefox/etc.’s porn modes?

  30. MK

    ‘Duck it’ does fine as a replacement verb for searching.
    I was pretty cynical about the Google bashing until I actually decided to switch to Chrome, loved it, signed up for everything on it and then started to notice that its performance was ‘evolving’ in a way that I hadn’t seen with any other program EVER. Upon further investigation, two factors made me abandon a program I thought was great.
    1. Chrome doesn’t let you know what version you’re running.
    2. Chrome doesn’t let you prevent it upgrading itself and/or let you know when it is doing this.

    This alone makes it ‘malware’.

    Added to the new Unified Privacy policy, and the bubble-wrapping and you have a system which can be used with intent to provide you with a gated Compuserve/AOL Internet and to DEFINE you according to algorhythmic definition you will never be able to query.

    In short, having an online avatar by choice is one thing, but having one which Google machinery and/or machination (with selected partners) manufactures FOR you and never discloses, is a deal-breaker for me

  31. Mariop

    DuckDuckGo, DuckDuckGo, DuckDuckGo…?

    Are you blind? Read all text carefully, stop crying, and go to…

    https://www.startpage.com

  32. Mark

    Short DuckDuckGo link:

    http://ddg.gg/

    Enjoy!

  33. David

    Folks – you seem to be missing the point. Rich content and free experience on the internet is not free but generally you aren’t asked to pay for it. It needs to be funded somehow or another though doesn’t it? All that fabulous stuff we use comes with a price tag – we sacrifice some elements of what we now term as our privacy in return for the social networking stuff, the search engines that produce relevant results and so on. If you dont like a ‘free’ supplier being able to continue to provide you a service – then opt out (don’t use them)…….

  34. Chris Hoffman

    @Deron

    AskEraser promises to delete your history from Ask.com’s servers I believe, so I included it.

    I personally use and like Google, but I understand that people want alternatives. Competition is good.

  35. rbouvet

    I am pretty sure to search for images using DuckDuck, type in…..(!gi) no parenthesis …after what you’re looking for. Example. Elvis Presley!gi

  36. Greg Lindahl

    blekko’s SuperPrivacy feature is available to everyone, not just people who have created accounts on blekko. Ditto for “no ads”. We think consumers should have choice.

  37. Chris Hoffman

    @Greg Lindahl

    Oops! So sorry about that. I’ll update the post. My apologies. I’m not sure where I got the idea it was otherwise.

  38. alnonymous

    There are already websites that will post + link tens of thousands of people’s email addresses, full name, real street address, tel phone number, cell phone number – for no apparent reason. Now i hear there is a site that will be linking all this stuff along with gov’t records, arrest records etc so who knows how long it will be until they just start posting your browsing history along with this stuff and they use technique called “browser fingerprinting” now and Geolocation (set to “ON” by default in Opera, matter of time for Firefox) so even if you delete all cookies, web history etc, if you visit 5-6 different sites in a session and if a few of them aren’t Top 1000 sites, they can figure out who you are after a few sessions. This is why google sent out their trucks to map all the wifi signals throughout the U.S. – they want to know who you are as soon as you log onto the internet, whether you like it or not. They make $$$$ destroying your privacy and in most cases without your knowledge. (i’d guess 95% people are unaware whats going on)

  39. Helen

    For lilsting10:
    DuckDuckGo! doesn’t have own image search, you can search from there images of Google or Bing (click on green square next to magnifying glass at their home page to see this options).

    To badger_fruit:
    Opt-out option on Google: if you have Google account, then they say this is possible, under account and privacy there is opting out from customization of the searches and using target advertisement. Can’t say how good it works, some websites continue to show my demographic-targeted assumptive and offensive ads, instead of what I’m in reality looking for…

    About ixquick and StartPage: if you have problem with your terms absent in result, go to advanced search, default could be “any” term instead of “all”. Start page allows search by date range (for time sensitive search), while ixquick does not.

    Blekko doesn’t work for me at all, different mindset, well beyond /news and /gossip. Try to find how to make spam free web search and see what Blekko shows.

    DuckDuckGo works best for me. In case of substituted terms you can put the term in quotation marks for precise search. They have an explanation for this in the help.

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