The Best Private Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy

These are the privacy search engines we recommend

  1. DuckDuckGo
  2. SearX
  3. Disconnect Search
  4. StartPage
  5. Peekier

Using a private search engine such as StartPage or DuckDuckGo is becoming ever more important. Many privacy focused alternatives usually leverage the big search engines in order to return results, but proxy search requests so that Google, Yahoo or Microsoft do not know who did the search. In other words, they only see that the query was searched for, not the indvidual who searched for it.

These privacy search engines promise not to log your IP address or any searches you make, unlike Google and the other search engine giants. If you want the benefits of rapid access to information that a search engine provides without giving up your privacy, read on.

What Does Google Know About Me?

The problem with most search engines is that they spy on you. This is their business model – to learn as much about you as possible, to deliver highly targeted advertising directly to your browser window. 

Google has even recently dropped its moratorium on combining what it learns by scanning your emails with what it learns about you through your searches. All the better to spy on you. Information typically collected and stored each time you make a search includes:

A cookie is deposited in your browser’s cookie folder that uniquely identifies your computer. With it, a search engine provider can trace a search request back to your computer.

This information is usually transmitted to the requested web page, and to the owners of any third party advertising banners displayed on that page. As a result, as you surf the internet, advertisers can build up a (potentially highly embarrassing) profile of you.

Of course, if Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!, etc., know lots about you, this information can be (and often is) handed over to the police and the NSA. If you find this worrying, it's a good sign that you should consider a Google alternative.

Indeed, it was only recently that evidence emerged showing how closely Yahoo works with the NSA to betray its users to the intelligence service. Naughty, naughty.

Google Transparency Report - User Data Requests

Google Transparency Report on the number of User Data Requests received, and the number (at least partially) acceded to.

The filter bubble: what the internet is hiding from you

An added benefit of using a search engine that does not track you is that it avoids the "filter bubble" effect. Most search engines use your past search terms (and things you "Like" on social networks) to profile you. They can then return results they think will interest you.

This can result in only receiving search returns that agree with your point of view, and this locks you into a "filter bubble", where you do not get to see alternative viewpoints and opinions because they have been downgraded in your search results.

Not only does this deny you access to the rich texture and multiplicity of human input, but it can also be hazardous as it can confirm prejudices, and prevent you from seeing the "bigger picture".

The Best Private Search Engines 

In a world governed by tracking, DuckDuckGo promises to uphold your privacy!

DuckDuckGo is “The Search Engine that Vows Not to Track You”. Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo, has stated that “if the FBI comes to us, we have nothing to tie back to you.”


It is a US-based company and is the most popular and high-profile of the privacy search engines. Searches are primarily sourced via Yahoo, with whom DuckDuckGo has a strong relationship.


This is very worrying given recent revelations about its ties to the NSA, but DuckDuckGo continues to promise that it does not collect or share personal information.


Search results




  • Image results can only be filtered by size (Small, Medium, Large).


Duck Duck Go Search Results


Here we can see both the contextual filter in actual (auto-direct to Products) and DDG's discrete ads


How it makes money


DuckDuckGo displays ads alongside its search results. These are sourced from Yahoo as part of the Yahoo-Microsoft search alliance. By default, when advertisers sign up for a Bing Ads account, their ads automatically enter rotation into all of Bing’s distribution channels, including DuckDuckGo. 


Importantly, however, these ads are untargeted (they are displayed based on your search terms). And as already noted, they are clearly marked and are shown separately from the “pure” search returns.


DuckDuckGo is part of the affiliate programs of Amazon and eBay. When you visit those sites through DuckDuckGo and subsequently make a purchase, it receives a small commission. No personally identifiable information is given out in this way, however, and this does not influence search result rankings.


Privacy


DuckDuckGo states that it does not collect or share personal information.



  • An affiliate code may be added to some eCommerce sites (e.g., Amazon & eBay), but this does not include any personally identifiable information.

  • Being based in the US means that DuckDuckGo is subject to government pressure and laws such as FISA and the Patriot Act. This means that the US government could mandate that DuckDuckGo start logging its users’ activities. And prevent the company from alerting users to this fact via a Gag order.

  • DuckDuckGo uses Amazon servers. Again, this is a US company, subject to pressure from the US government.

  • Qualys SSL labs security report: A+


Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, has contacted me regarding this article, attempting to once again reassure us that DuckDuckGo is privacy-conscious and retains no data.


Features


In addition to its rather nifty contextual filters, the most striking feature of DuckDuckGo is "bangs". 


These allow you to search other websites quickly and easily. For example, typing !guk before a search query will return Google UK search results, and typing !a will search the Amazon store for you.


Note that bangs take you to the website in question. The searches are not proxied, so you lose an element of privacy if you bang Google directly. Fortunately, there is a solution. You can combine bangs with Startpage.com (see review in this list) by typing !s or !sp, and because Startpage.com uses Google, you can have the best of both worlds.


Overall


DuckDuckGo offers good looking and easy-to-use interface, although some may prefer Google to the primarily Yahoo-based search results.


Bangs are a killer feature, however, and one that goes a long way towards compensating for this issue. Just remember that if you want to query Google and protect your privacy, it makes sense to bang into StartPage.com with the !s or !sp for Google search results in privacy instead of going to Google directly.


It is little surprise, then, that DuckDuckGo is so popular. But the fact that it is a US company should sound a note of caution.

SearX is versatile with public and self-hosted options - the latter of which is unrivalled in privacy

Less well-known, but fast gaining traction with the security community is SearX. Not only is SearX fully open-source, but it is easy to set up and to run your own instance of it.


There is an official public SearX instance, or you can use one of many volunteer-run public instances. But what SearX is really about is running your own instance. This makes SearX the only metasearch engine where you can be 100 percent sure that no logs are kept!


Search results




  • Search suggestions are not offered.

  • There are no additional filters for Images, although a preview is displayed when they are clicked on.


SearX Options


There are no ads, search suggestions are listed to the right, and as with Startpage, you can proxy webpages.


How it makes money


SearX is an open-source project run by volunteers. On the official instance, there is no on-site advertising and no affiliate marketing.


Because it is open-source, individual operators of public SearX instances are free to introduce their own finance models. But I have yet to find a single instance that is not 100 percent ad and affiliate-free.


Privacy



  • There is no way to know if a public SearX instance operator is logging your searches. And this includes the official instance.

  • That being said, there is no way to guarantee that DDG, Startpage, or any other “private” search engines are not logging your searches either…

  • If you are serious about privacy, therefore, you should set up your own SearX instance. In fact, setting up your own SearX instance on a server that only you directly control is the only way currently available to guarantee that your searches are not logged.

  • This makes self-hosted SearX instances by far the most secure search engines available. Documentation for installing your own SearX instance is available here.

  • For the casual user, public SearX instances are unlikely to log your searches and are much less likely to be monitored by the likes of the NSA than the other services mentioned here.

  • Just remember, though, that there is no way to be sure of this.

  • Qualys SSL labs security report for searx.me (the official instance): A. Note that each SearX instance (public or private) is different in this respect.


Features


As with Startpage, the ability to proxy websites is a killer feature if you can live with it breaking many websites that you visit.


Overall


For serious tech-savvy privacy-heads, a self-hosted SearX instance is the way to go. Simply put, nothing else is in the same league when it comes to knowing for certain that your searches are not logged.


More casual users may also be surprised at how well the software works on public instances. My personal feelings are that these are much less likely to log your searches or be spied on by the US and other governments than DuckDuckGo, Startpage or Disconnect. But this is purely speculation.

Disconnect attempts to cater to all your security needs - from VPNs to browser extensions

The US-based company has made a name for itself with some excellent open-source privacy-oriented browser extensions in recent years. One of these is the open-source Disconnect Search add-on for Firefox and Chrome (a non-open source Android app is also available).


This browser add-on is still the primary way to use Disconnect Search, although a JavaScript web app is available. This mimics the browser extension and allows you to perform web searches from the Disconnect Search web page.


Disconnect also markets a Premium VPN and online security app, with Disconnect Search functionality built-in. Please see my Disconnect VPN review for more details on this.


Search results



browser extension


The browser extension


How it makes money


Disconnect markets a Premium product, but the Disconnect Search browser extension is free. It hides your IP when doing searches but then sends you directly to the selected search engine.


This means that Disconnect performs no advertising or affiliate marketing of its own when doing a search.


Privacy



  • Disconnect is a US company and is therefore not a good choice for the more NSA-phobic out there.

  • The browser extension is open-source, but search requests can still be logged by Disconnect, as they are made through its servers.

  • Disconnect hosts its service on Amazon servers.

  • Qualys SSL labs security report: A (this is for the Disconnect.me website).


Overall


The Disconnect Search browser extension provides a quick and easy way to hide your true identity while doing searches using your favorite search engine. The fact that Disconnect is US-based, however, is a major issue. 

Based in the Netherlands, StartPage enjoys strong privacy laws unlike its US competitors!

Startpage.com and Ixquick are run by the same company. In the past, Startpage.com returned Google results, while Ixquick returned results from a number of other search engines, but not Google. The two services have now been combined, and both return identical Google results.


Although no longer actively supported, the old Ixquick metasearch engine is still available at Ixquick.eu. Interestingly, despite no longer being actively supported, Startpage.com has recently removed Yahoo results from the legacy search engine. This is in response to news that Yahoo has been helping the NSA spy on its users.


Search results




  • Suggestions are not offered as you type by default, but this can be enabled in settings.

  • Searches can be only filtered by Web, Images and Video categories. 


startpage search


Ads are discrete but clearly labeled


How it makes money


Much like DuckDuckGo, Startpage.com makes money from ads and affiliate links. 


These ads are untargeted, clearly marked, and not mixed in with the “real” search returns. They are somewhat more prominently displayed than with DuckDuckGo, however.


Privacy



  • Startpage is based in the Netherlands, which has strong privacy laws.

  • It runs servers collocated in the US. These are owned and controlled by Startpage, and I am assured that they are secure against government snooping. If this worries you, however…

  • It is possible to use non-US servers only (or non-EU servers).

  • Web pages returned from searches can be proxied (see below).

  • Startpage is the only privacy search engine that has been independently audited.

  • Qualys SSL labs security report: A+


Features


Startpage.com’s killer feature is that, rather than visiting a website directly, you can proxy the connection. If you select this option, then a proxy server run by Startpage.com sits between your computer and the website.


This prevents the website from knowing your true IP address (much like a VPN), and from being able to use web tracking and fingerprinting technologies to identify and track you. It also blocks malicious scripts. 


The downside is that pages load more slowly since StartPage.com must retrieve the contents and re-display them. That said, the newly re-branded and redesigned "Anonymous View" is much faster than was previously the case. It also breaks websites much less because it allows JavaScript "while rewriting and 'redefining' JavaScript primitives to protect your privacy." 


I must say that this is a terrific feature and one that can significantly improve your privacy. Given its downside, however, you probably won’t want to use it all the time.


Overall


With its new re-design, StartPage.com matches DuckDuckGo in terms of prettiness and user-friendliness.


But thanks to being based in the Netherlands and having nothing to do with Yahoo, it should be more resistant to NSA spying than its US-based rival (if you specify non-US servers!). And the ability to proxy web pages is an absolute doozy.


Update: As of November 2019 we have depreciated StartPage in this article. The reason for this is that it has been purchased by System1, a company which "has developed a pre-targeting platform that identifies and unlocks consumer intent across channels including social, native, email, search, market research and lead generation rather than relying solely on what consumers enter into search boxes."


Our thanks to former StartPage employee Liz McKintyre for alerting us to this development.  

Peekier brings welcome changes to the standardized search engine.

Peekier is a new no-logs search engine. There is not enough information about this service currently available for me to give it a proper assessment. It is worth mentioning, however, because of the attractive and innovative way that it displays search results.


Peekier Search Results


In a field were where, if we are honest, most search engines look pretty similar, it is great to see a different approach. I, therefore, think it worth flagging up Peekier and keeping an eye on the service to see how it develops.


 

Privacy Search Engines Conclusion

Using any of these services engines will significantly improve your search privacy. Crucially, your searches will not be recorded to help build a profile that is used to sell you stuff. All the search engines I looked at in this article are easy to use and return good results.

Will these services protect your searches from government surveillance (and the NSA in particular)? In the case of US companies, it is safest to assume not. But unless you are doing something very illegal, this may not concern you (although it should).

Startpage is non-US based, has been independently audited, and allows you to access websites with a great deal of privacy thanks to its proxy feature. It is, therefore, a much better choice for privacy-heads than DuckDuckGo.

Public SearX instances are less likely to be monitored than other higher-profile search engines, but they may be. It is also likely that you will know nothing about their operators. Running your own SearX instance on hardware directly under your control, however, is an extremely secure and private solution. And is therefore only one that I can recommend to serious privacy fanatics.

The fact the SearX has a great interface and returns on-the-button results from all the major search engines is the icing on the cake.

A note on Start Page

 

Please note, since this page was first written, Start Page has been acquired by the Privacy One Group, leading to some concerns around the levels of privacy that it can offer. Since then, many concerns have been alleviated but we will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Written by: Douglas Crawford

Has worked for almost six years as senior staff writer and resident tech and VPN industry expert at ProPrivacy.com. Widely quoted on issues relating cybersecurity and digital privacy in the UK national press (The Independent & Daily Mail Online) and international technology publications such as Ars Technica.

9 Comments

kenneth horne
on June 8, 2020
Reply
On my setup Startpage Anon has been problematic for about a year. The Anon function stopped working unless you set server="US only"....even then it accesses target sites less reliably than before system1(coincidence?). I was comfortable using Anon through EU servers, but anything that passes through the US (I am not anti US btw) is risking a snoop; in particular, UK powers that be are given ready access to US snoopage relating to UK users. Thus, using Startpage (US server - I have to for Anon to work at all) is not really sensible. So Startpage is no longer an option if you aspire to maximum achievable privacy.
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/ray-walshjpeg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-ima-7df05c2bafe5e85cb7cb582cd8351a9bpng-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Ray Walsh replied to kenneth horne
on July 9, 2020
Reply
Yes, StartPage has been bought out and it is now potentially not a secure option anymore.
Gina Ferrari
on May 14, 2020
Reply
A Macintosh list to which I have subscribe for many years had negative things to say about StartPage, which I used to use. To wit: "Unfortunately Start Page was purchased by a company that has a horrible reputation for *not* providing security for their users, so I stopped using Start Page." Any comments on this observation? That same Mac list had good things to say about these search engines: MetaGer Swisscows Qwant Again, any observations or comments to make on these? Many thanks for all your great articles.
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to Gina Ferrari
on May 14, 2020
Reply
Hi Gina. We depreciated StartPage in the article for just this reason (after a warning from our friend and former StartPage employee Liz McIntyre). Thre was a disclaimer that explained the situation, but for reasons unknown, that disclaimer appears to have gonbe walkabouts. I'll try to chase up why with the rest of the team.
OpenBSD
on January 8, 2020
Reply
As right now I'm using Tor browser with user agent spoofing. So anyway, How about this one? https://search.privacytools.io? So I do use DuckDuckGo.onion, Startpage, and disconnect sometime.
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to OpenBSD
on January 8, 2020
Reply
Hi OpenBSD. Using user agent spoofing with Tor Browser is not recommended as greater anonymity is achieved by all Tor Browser users looking alike. The change in ownership of StartPage has resulted in us depreciating our recommendation for it. Personally, I say use DDG if you don't want to setup a Seax instance. But also watch this space for upcoming news!
Dmina
on April 3, 2019
Reply
DDG and other like Qwant/Ecosia, are not native Search engines, since they don't do their own crawling of the all the internet! First of all they get their results from Bing (as all of them have admitted openly). Secondly, they place persistent cookies on your device needlessly, when they could have provided results without cookies like 'Cuil' type model e.g. with StartPage. and MeekD.com
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