When you think of a search engine, you probably think of Google. This giant is one of the biggest search engines around, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re also the best. In fact, when you’re using Google, you’re mostly helping large companies to make money off of your browsing habits.
Time to find a search engine that respects your privacy and doesn’t bombard you with unwanted ads!
What are private search engines?
Every time you enter a search into Google, Google records it. If you’re looking for a location in Google Maps, Google knows about it. No wonder you keep receiving so many ads. Search engines such as Google or Bing build a digital profile of your browsing habits and sell your data to third parties. These parties will then try and seduce you into buying stuff by bombarding you with ads and pop-ups.
Private search engines don’t do that. They don’t gather your data to give you perfect search results. They don’t store your queries or track your steps on the internet and they keep your searches safe and anonymous. They are, indeed, a perfect alternative to regular search engines. They deliver just as well, without the annoying habit of tracking your every move and invading your privacy.
In short, private search engines provide reliable results and guarantee an anonymous browsing experience.
What is incognito search?
You’ve probably discovered that Google and other regular search engines also offer an incognito or private mode. It’s a form of private browsing that doesn’t leave as many tracks as normal browsing does.
Incognito mode does have its advantages. If you’re browsing in this mode, for example, your web browser forgets about your session as soon as you close the incognito window. Nothing is kept lingering around in your browsing history and all the cookies you’ve created during your session are erased. Cookies are little bits of data that log your online activities and they are the reason webshops remember what items you’re interested in, even days after you’ve visited the shop.
Browsing in private mode can be useful when you’re searching on sensitive topics. Or if you want to sign into multiple accounts without having to sign in and out every single time. While it does keep certain aspects private, it doesn’t help much if you want to maintain online invisibility during your browsing sessions.
Of course, it’s a good thing your private mode erases temporary data, but that is only after you close your browser. When you’re in the midst of browsing, everything you do is visible to third parties. Websites and internet services can still follow your online activities, linking these activities between various accounts and profiles.
For example, when you sign into Facebook, Facebook knows what you’ve been doing on other sites and adjusts its advertising: even in private mode. Tracking technologies are highly advanced, making it nearly impossible to block them, no matter how many private methods you throw into the game. Even if you don’t sign in anywhere, the websites you visit still have access to your device type, browser data, and IP address. This way, they can still figure out what your preferences are and tie this to other available information about you.
So while private mode hides your online activities from the browser you’ve been using, it doesn’t hide your browsing from your service provider. It also doesn’t wipe out files you’ve downloaded.
Your searches are being logged and associated with your account, making it impossible to truly browse anonymously.
Best private search engines
Knowing how hard it is to stay invisible on the web, even in private mode, it’s clear only a private search engine can keep tracking down to a minimum. That’s why you should choose a search engine that is fully dedicated to your privacy.
We’ve listed some of the best private search engines around. These engines maintain your privacy, without making concessions to the quality of search results. They also have a user-friendly interface and offer a customized experience because of their various setting options.
- DuckDuckGo is one of the safest search engines around. It never tracks your searches and simultaneously delivers a high-quality search experience. That’s because it gathers results from over four hundred sources, which include Bing, Yahoo, and Wikipedia. The only downside to DuckDuckGo is that it does use your IP address to deliver local results. Of course, your IP address is immediately deleted after you’ve been given the results, but some people would rather not have their address used at all. Overall, it’s one of the very best private search engines around, especially when it comes to user experience. Go to DuckDuckGo.
- Startpage is a powerful anonymous search engine that lets you browse through a proxy server so that websites can’t track your IP address or location. You can add Startpage to your browser, and it takes results from Google and delivers them to you. You can view Google results without being tracked by the company. The service doesn’t track any of your information, including your search queries. The experience is very similar to Google; even the interface is virtually the same. You can easily search the web or look for images and videos. Search results are more in line with Google's, so if you’re looking for a private version of Google: look no further. Startpage delivers Google-like results without collecting your data. Go to Startpage.
- Qwant guarantees that it doesn’t record any user information to use for advertising. It also promises users that they won’t get stuck in their own little bubble, meaning that search results aren’t limited to your browsing habits or behavioural profile. This means that if you’re on the right spectrum of politics, you will still get to see search results that contradict your general beliefs and vice versa. The anonymous search engine is also very user-friendly, categorizing your search results in several handy categories, such as News and Social media. Qwants interface also allows you to narrow down your results to news, images, social, or videos. Plus, you can customize your homepage to display trending topics, for example. While Qwant doesn’t create a user profile, it is possible to register for the engine and then create a profile yourself. This way, you can receive customized ads, should you still want to, and remain private while browsing. Go to Qwant.
- WolframAlpha offers expert knowledge for anyone looking for information about people, health, finance, music, movies, calculations, and more. It uses inbuilt algorithms, knowledge bases, and AI technology to deliver open knowledge on all these topics, but it never tracks what you’re searching for. Perfect if you want to compute data, research statistics, and find expert answers to all your questions. Go to WolframAlpha.
- Ecosia is a private search engine based on Bing. The good thing about Ecosia is that it’s the first eco-friendly private browser: it plants trees while you search and supports reforestation. By the end of last year, a total of 116 million trees had been planted already. If you use Ecosia, you can be certain that all search queries are encrypted and that no external tracking tools are being used. Furthermore, you can switch off any tracking the company offers to offer you personalized search results and advertising. Go to Ecosia.
How to anonymously use a search engine?
If you want to keep tracking down to a minimum, you need to pick a browser that doesn’t mine your data and focuses on privacy. Apart from that, it is always sensible to use a reliable VPN whenever you connect to the world wide web.
The basic steps for an anonymous browsing experience:
- Delete your search history every time you use the internet
- Turn on incognito mode for an additional layer of protection
- Use a private browser when you’re surfing the web
- Consider deploying a VPN to encrypt your traffic and make sure that service providers can’t track you down
Want to know more about VPNs? Learn more about the use and benefits of VPNs.
Full list of search engines that don't track you
Frequently asked questions about private search engines
Is there a search engine that doesn't track you?
There are search engines that claim not to track and collect user data. At the same time, you can't be 100% sure of that.
For example, search engines can also store user data to improve the quality of the search engine itself. If you want to be sure, the advice is to read the privacy statement of the search engine you use.
One of the search engines that focuses on privacy is DuckDuckGo. They state that they do not share or store users' search data. Other (somewhat less known) search engines that are a safer choice in terms of privacy are Qwant and StartPage.
Is DuckDuckGo owned by China?
No, DuckDuckGo is owned by an American company. So the search engine has certainly no origin in China. In fact, DuckDuckGo is blocked there and can only be used through a VPN service. In China, Baidu is the most used search engine.
Is DuckDuckGo owned by Google?
No, DuckDuckGo is a competitor of Google, distinguishing itself by guarding user privacy better than, say, Google does.
DuckDuckGo was founded in 2008 by Gabriel Weinberg in America. Whereas Google stores a lot of data and search history usage, DuckDuckGo keeps your search history empty. Nothing is stored or linked to you as a user.
Because DuckDuckGo is so specifically designed to ensure the privacy of the user, the search engine cuts some of Google's market share. For example, DuckDuckGo's usage grew by more than 60 percent in 2021.