Search engines like Google and Bing are notorious for tracking users, but privacy-focused alternatives like DuckDuckGo don’t always deliver Google-quality results. Enter StartPage, a search engine that doesn’t track you while still providing results directly from Google.
What Is StartPage?
Previously known as Ixquick, StartPage’s predecessor launched in 1998 (the same year as Google) as a “meta search” engine that aggregated results from a variety of search engines. In the late ’90s, Google wasn’t the behemoth that it is today, so combining results from rivals like Yahoo, Altavista, and Lycos alongside Google seemed like a convincing and unique selling point.
As time passed, Ixquick pivoted to providing a private search engine experience that didn’t log IP addresses or store search data. In 2009, Ixquick made an agreement with Google to provide search results that protected user privacy, as long as those results only came from Google. Thus, StartPage was born.
Why Use StartPage over Google?
At its core, Google is an advertising company. The more Google knows about you, the better it can serve you relevant adverts. You are more likely to click on these adverts, since they reflect your interests, further incentivizing Google to learn as much about you as it can.
A person’s search history can say a lot about them. Google tracks this data and builds up a profile of its users. This includes obvious things like purchases and hobbies, but it also includes more sensitive topics like sexual orientation, medical history, political leanings, or even criminal history.
When you search with Google, you’re contributing yet more information that can be used to serve you advertisements. On the other hand, ditching Google altogether means that you can’t take advantage of (arguably) the best and most relevant results on the web.
StartPage provides an alternative to sharing your data with Google, but still gives you access to the company’s powerful search engine. StartPage includes image and video search filtering as well as news results (via tabs as seen at the top of a Google search).
The layout is virtually identical to Google’s, albeit with a slightly different color scheme. You can filter by time or by region while sticking to family-friendly results. If all you’re looking for is a simple search engine with reliable results, StartPage is a viable option.
One feature unique to StartPage is Anonymous View, which appears next to each search result. Click on this button and StartPage will visit the website via an anonymizing web proxy so that you can’t be tracked even when leaving your search results.
StartPage and Google’s Results Aren’t Identical
While StartPage gets its results directly from Google, there are subtle differences between them all the same. In particular, social results from websites like Twitter and Instagram aren’t as well-indexed, nor are site-specific searches.
In our testing, while trying to search How-To Geek using a simple search string of “site:howtogeek xbox” we kept getting errors that suggested that we were abusing the service. Trying the same search in different browsers and for domains yielded a similar result.
StartPage also presents information in a more traditional form, listing 10 top results with a few adverts at the top of the screen. While Google has shifted toward providing information within the search, StartPage more often requires that you click through to a website to find the information you’re looking for.
This means that it can take a bit longer to find what you’re looking for in a StartPage search, whereas a Google search would often extract and display a relevant result at the top of the page. There are also far fewer filters for finding relevant information such as recipes, shopping, or books.
Unfortunately, many of the quick functions that you can use in Google (like currency and unit conversion) don’t work in StartPage.
Also, while Google searches integrate Google Maps, StartPage has no mapping functionality at all. If you want a truly anonymous mapping tool that won’t track you, then DuckDuckGo’s implementation of Apple Maps is your best option.
The other major point of difference between Google and StartPage lies in the speed of results. We won’t say that StartPage is slow, but it’s a far cry from the instant results yielded by a Google search. For those whose main concern is not being tracked online, this seems like a small price to pay.
Should You Use StartPage or DuckDuckGo?
StartPage and DuckDuckGo are very similar search engines in that they both share a core mission: to not track users or log search information. Both DuckDuckGo and StartPage use external search engines for their results, although DuckDuckGo uses over 400 independent sources, while StartPage sticks to just Google.
Since Google is a search powerhouse, StartPage may provide more relevant results. On the other hand, Google’s results may be biased toward Google’s own services and products, which could influence the results. Nobody outside of Google knows how the search giant organizes or prioritizes its search results, and StartPage is at Google’s mercy in regard to this.
While StartPage is a relatively spartan operation, with few unique features beyond Anonymous View, DuckDuckGo has a few unique selling points that might tip the odds in its favor. Bangs allow you to quickly search specific sources (e.g.”!howtogeek xbox”), and it’s a feature that works well.
DuckDuckGo not only provides the only privacy-focused mapping tool, but it also allows anyone to make use of Apple Maps (even on Android and Windows). Support for DuckDuckGo as a default search engine is also common, with browsers like Safari, Chrome, and Firefox all offering the option. In comparison, StartPage needs to be added manually to most browsers.
One reason that you might want to choose DuckDuckGo over StartPage is that it specifically doesn’t use Google for its results. Since Google has a monopoly on search, and competition is good for consumers, an argument could be made for switching to DuckDuckGo instead. Google also tends to pepper its results with Google services, so if you’re trying to avoid the search giant, DuckDuckGo offers some relief.
By the way, if you’re using DuckDuckGo, you can quickly search for StartPage with a “bang.” Just search for “!s example” on DuckDuckGo, replacing “example” with whatever it is you want to search for.
Will You Switch to StartPage?
If you’re looking for a search engine that doesn’t track you or log information about you (like your IP address), but you still aren’t ready to let go of Google’s results, then StartPage is an ideal stepping stone.
It’s worth noting that StartPage could disappear if Google refuses to renew their agreement to provide the search engine with search results, but it doesn’t look like that will be happening anytime soon.
Otherwise, check out our in-depth look at DuckDuckGo and how it works to protect your privacy.