What Is a Private Search Engine?
Search engines, especially the big ones, are great for helping you find the information that you are looking for. However, this help usually comes at a price — your online privacy.
Most of the popular search engines today double as data collection tools for marketing and advertising companies. They collect your private data to help marketers deliver targeted ads to internet users. Here are some of the information being collected by non-private search engines:
- Your real IP address
- The user agent or browser used
- Your physical location
- Unique identifier which is stored in the browser cookies
- Search queries
- Search and browsing history
- The links you click
The search engine submits this information to the advertisers so they can create a profile for you and serve you with personalized ads based on your preferences. Unless you use a private search engine, your data will end up in the hands of third parties and use them to make more money.
Using a private search engine protects your data from falling into the wrong hands. A private search engine does not collect user data and focuses on the search query instead. These anonymous search engines keep your data protected so that your financial data, medical problems, employment status, and other important details remain completely private.
This guide will list down the best private search engines today, what they do, and what makes them stand out from the rest.
Best Private Search Engines That Won’t Track You
If you’re worried about your online privacy but need to search for information at the same time, you have plenty of alternatives to choose from. The best way to get the information that you need while protecting your personal data is by using a private search engine. Private search engines don’t collect, sell, or use your information.
There are a lot of private search engines you can use, but how do you choose which one is the best? These anonymous search engines are not all on the same level of quality as one another so you need to do a lot of research before using one. For example, some private search engines are not as private as they claim to be. Others protect your information while you’re doing your search, but the user interface is not so friendly.
So when you’re looking for the best private search engine for you, here are the criteria you should keep in mind:
- It should protect your privacy and does not track any data.
- It should deliver appropriate and relevant search results.
- It should have a clean and easy-to-use interface.
- It should provide settings options for customization.
It is also worth noting that private search engines work differently. Some private search engines are considered as real search engines because they actually crawl websites to get the information they need to provide search results. These private search engines offer more privacy since they don’t interact with Google or other major search engines that track your information. However, these search engines may not provide you with the best results.
There are also private search engines that are called metasearch engines. They essentially act as a middleman between the user and other big search engines. Instead of doing their own search, these metasearch engines pull up search results from other search engines, including Google, Bing, and Yandex. There are also other search engines that fall in the middle, utilizing their own crawlers as well as pulling results from other search engines.
So, here are the private search engines you can use as an alternative to Google and other search engines that compromise your online privacy:
Startpage is the first-ever and probably one of the world’s most private search engines available today. Aside from providing robust search results, it also offers customization options and strong privacy protection features.
The user experience is quite straightforward and the search results are significantly more relevant than other private search engines. This is probably because Startpage leverages Google’s search technology, minus the tracking. Other private search engines are mostly dependent on Yahoo and Bing’s search functions.
For quick and convenient searching, you can set Startpage as your default search engine on your favorite browser. You can even set it as your default search engine from the browser itself. You also have the option to install its extension for a hassle-free and safe browsing. It also offers multiple ways for you to personalize your settings, so you can search the way you want to.
One of the unique features of Startpage is Anonymous View. This proxy feature allows users to view images, watch videos, read the news, and visit websites without leaving any trace. Whenever you do a search using Startpage, an Anonymous View link will show up next to the search results. You can click this link to hide your IP address and user agent from the websites you are visiting.
One of the most popular and widely used private search engines today is DuckDuckGo. It is a useful metasearch engine that collects search results from more than 400 sources, including big search engines like Yahoo and Bing. It also gathers information from Wikipedia. It is so popular that the search engine gets around 14 million search queries per day.
This is not the same as selling your data, it just collects your data for management purposes. However, if you’re uncomfortable having your searches saved or your online activities being tracked, you might need to consider another private search engine.
The lesson here is that, before using any software or tool, make sure to read the fine print first so you know whether your personal information is being collected and how it is being used.
According to Swisscows’ website, the private search engine does not collect any data and ensures 100% anonymity of the user. Their online privacy says: “We DO NOT store your data! Since we NEVER collect your data, we NEVER track your data! We respect your privacy!”
It does not save your computer’s IP address, your browser information, or your device information. Whenever you do a search, the search terms are not logged or analyzed. It just does what needs to be done without doing anything else. The only information that Swisscows tracks is the total number of search queries it receives each day.
The search engine has its own, privately-owned servers so they do not have to rely on any third-party infrastructure. Its DataCenter is based in the Swiss Alps, which is considered to be the safest bunker in Europe. This DataCenter is also protected by Switzerland’s robust privacy and data retention laws. All of its infrastructures are located outside the EU or the US to avoid the 5-eyes and 14-eyes alliances.
Swisscows has a built-in filter for adult and porn sites, so it is very family-friendly. You don’t have to worry about your kids being exposed to inappropriate materials. It also has a translation feature for most major non-English languages. What’s unique about this private search engine is the new Digest feature that lets you quickly understand the essence of the information you have. Just paste the text, drop your file, or type in the URL on the Digest tool and it will give you a summary of the information you just entered.
Swisscows is a free private search engine, so how does it make money? Just like other search engines, it displays banner ads on the search results to get revenue. These ads are usually based on your search query, but not your location or search history. These banner ads are non-invasive and are family-friendly.
Basically, Searx.me is a metasearch engine that gathers search results from other major search engines, and then combines all of them. Just like Startpage, Searx deletes any identifying information from your search query so that the search engines receive the search query as an anonymous request.
Instead of showing ads to the users, Searx relies on donations to support its operation. On the search results pages and other pages on the Searx.me website, you will see a donation link that you can click to support the service.
Searx is an open-source software which means that it is free. You can download the code that is available on Github and modify it according to your preferred level of privacy protection. But if you have zero technical or coding knowledge, you can take advantage of the customizable Advanced Settings that can be found on the main search page.
Searx can also be downloaded as a Mozilla Firefox extension so that you can automatically use it without going to the Searx.me homepage.
5. Disconnect Search
It is difficult to find a search engine or any service that offers free services without making money off you in other ways. The only exception would be Disconnect Search.
When you visit the website, you’ll notice that the interface is simple, clean, and obstruction-free. All you’ll see is the small logo at the upper-left of the screen and the search box in the middle of the page. When you type in your search term, you can use which other search engines the results will be pulled out from. Your options are DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, and Bing. Yes, Disconnect Search is a metasearch engine that gets its results from other search engines, just like Startpage and Searx.me.
Once you type in your keyword or search phrase, Disconnect Search removes any identifying data from your query and submits it anonymously to the search engines. This means that your query will not be tracked back to you and no record of your searches are saved.
What makes Disconnect Search so convenient to use is the way it presents the search results. It follows the pattern or the way the original search engine displays the results, so you don’t get confused. The search results pages are also more visually organized than other services.
And if you’re looking for search results according to your location, you can simply install the Disconnect Search extension and filter the results by location.
For now, Disconnect Search is free to use, but the company is planning to build out its search engine and VPN tools to include premium options. There is no timeline yet for this plan, so, for now, you can enjoy the ad-free services of Disconnect Search.
MetaGer is a metasearch engine that was created by a German non-profit NGO. It is widely used in its home country and is slowly attracting more users around the world. Just like the other metasearch engines, MetaGer turns your search phrase into an anonymous query before transmitting it to the major search engines.
But unlike most metasearch engine services, this private search engine adds another layer of security to your query by integrating with a proxy server that masks your IP address. This feature enables MetaGer to protect the user’s privacy in ways that other search engines can’t.
MetaGer also has a feature that allows users to view results pages without compromising their identity, just like Startpage’s Anonymous View link. When you do a search using Metager, you will see an Open anonymously option for every link on the page. If you choose this option, your click will be sent via an anonymous proxy so that the other end or any third parties won’t be able to track you.
This means that the privacy protection continues even if you click on the destination website. It may not be the same level of privacy as you would get from the best VPNs, but it is a huge improvement from letting Google hog all your data day after day.
MetaGer is independent because it does not pursue commercial interests. The code used by the search engine is open source and is available for everyone. It does not rely on ads to generate revenue. MetaGer is supported by user donation, just like Disconnect Search. You should see a Support & Donate button on the homepage and the results pages.
Gibiru is one of the oldest private search engines that are still around today. It was founded in 2009 and provides free, uncensored, and anonymized search engine. Gibiru works much faster than NSA search engines and does not add any cookies to your browser. Gibiru uses a modified Google search algorithm that deletes personal identifiers to provide users with untargeted search results.
When you perform a search query using the Gibiru browser, you will be presented with two lists of search results: All Results and Uncensored. You can also sort the results according to relevance or news type.
According to Gibiru’s website, they do not log your searches, your IP address, or other sensitive information on your computer. They won’t be able to sell your data to advertisers or use them to retarget you because there is no data collected in the first place.
Gibiru earns revenue in an interesting manner. Instead of delivering ads or asking for donations, the company earns its keep by getting commissions when users buy something or clicking a call to action while using the Gibiru browser.
If you want to perform your searches without using a browser, you can download the Wormhole Mobile App, the app version of this search engine that lets users surf the internet anonymously, without leaving any record of your searches or your search history.
Yippy also values a user’s online privacy by not recording any user data, including IP addresses, search history, and browsing history. It also does not require your name, phone number, physical address, or email address to use the service.
But what makes Yippy different is its ability to automatically categorize the search results and eliminate inappropriate entries. This search engine also allows users to directly organize different content from the search results, including jobs, videos, and news, while preventing ads from being a nuisance to users.
What’s interesting is that you don’t have to directly open each of the links to find the information you’re looking for. You can choose to open the link in a new window or open a preview of the webpage to peek at its content.
Qwant primarily gathers Bing search results and combines them with other results from other search engines before delivering them to the user. It also has its own indexing features so it is not entirely reliant on other search engines.
Qwant uses a profit-model that includes affiliate deals with e-commerce websites, such as eBay and Trip Advisor. So don’t be surprised if you see more of these affiliate sites in your search results. They have an unfair advantage in terms of search ranking because they are the ones actually paying for the service.
Most general searches deliver satisfying results. Local search results, however, are generally lacking. Qwant features a clean and minimalist interface that enables users to search the web conveniently. You can also narrow down your results to show only news, images, social, or videos. Additionally, you can also filter results by age or the freshness of the content.
Qwant also offers several options for customization. The settings section lets you customize your homepage, display trending topics, news, and social posts, as well as open links and videos in a new tab.
Aside from the private search engine, Qwant also has other services competing with Google products, including Qwant Music, Qwant Maps, Qwant Boards, and Qwant Junior for kids’ browsing.
You can also download the Qwant extensions for Chrome and Firefox for easy browsing. Or you can download the apps for iOS and Android for your mobile queries. If your device is slow or old, and you need a faster, lighter search engine, Qwant Lite should be the best option.
Unlike other private search engines that rely on other search engines, Mojeek is a real search engine complete with its own crawler. According to an open Reddit discussion, the company claimed to have indexed more than 2.3 billion pages and this number is growing year on year.
So if you want to get away from the influence of Google and Bing, and achieve complete search independence, Mojeek offers a good alternative. It might not have a 100% fine-tuned algorithm right now, but Mojeek is working on improving its searching system to provide better results for the users.
IP addresses are not recorded, except for special circumstances, such as when the search query is related to illegal or unethical practices relating to minors. In these cases, the full log is submitted to authorities.
Mojeek is based in the United Kingdom where the General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR) is in effect, which means that the government can force companies to surrender their logs.
YaCy is a very unique and interesting private search engine because instead of relying on other search engines, it runs on a peer-to-peer (P2P) network instead. It is entirely open source and was designed in 2004 by Michael Christen.
YaCy is fully decentralized and all users of the search engine network are the same. The search engine does not save user search requests so your privacy is completely protected. It is not possible to censor the content of the shared index or be tapped by the authorities because there is no central server. All the peers in the network work can be utilized for crawling or index pages.
Unlike other search engines where you can install them just by changing the settings of the browser, you need to download the YaCy on your device and install it. The software is available for macOS, Windows, and Linux.
How to Change the Default Search Engine on Your Browser
For most private search engines, you can either install the browser extension or change the default search engine via the browser settings. Here are the step by step instructions on how to set a different search engine for different browsers:
1. Open your Chrome browser.
2. Click the three dots found in the top right corner of your browser window, under the X button. It should be located next to your Google profile if you’re signed in to your Google account.
3. Choose Settings.
4. From the left menu, choose Search engine, then click the down arrow beside Search engine used in the address bar.
5. Click on Manage search engines.
6. Click the Add button.
7. Enter the URL of your new search engine, then click Add.
8. From the Search Engine page, click on the newly added URL to set it as the default search engine.
1. Open your Firefox browser.
2. Click the three lines found in the top-right corner of the window, under the X button.
3. Choose Options from the dropdown menu. This should open a new window.
4. On the left-side menu, click on the Search icon (magnifying glass) to open your search options.
5. Look for the Default Search Engine section, then click the dropdown menu where the user needs to Choose the default search engine to use in the address bar and search bar.
6. This should populate the field with the available options and allow you to select the search engine of your choice.
1. Open the Internet Explorer browser.
2. Click on the gear icon found at the top-right portion of the browser window.
3. Choose Manage add-ons.
4. When the Manage add-ons window opens, you should see the Add-on Types navigation menu on the left.
5. Click on Search Providers. Then choose the search engine you want to set as default.
6. Click Set as default and you’re done.
1. Open the Safari browser, then go to the Safari menu at the upper-left corner.
2. Choose Preferences from that dropdown menu.
3. Click the drop-down menu that is beside the Default search engine option.
4. Click on the search engine you want to make your default.
What Is a Search Engine?
A search engine is a web-based program or software that allows users to find information on the World Wide Web. Search engines use automated software applications, such as bots, robots, or spiders that crawl the Web and follow links from page to page and site to site.
The information collected by the bots or spiders is then used to create a searchable index of the Web. The search engine displays a list of results relevant to the user’s query. For example, if the user wanted to know what the recipe for apple pie is, the search engine will gather information from all over the internet and show articles, tutorials, and guides on how to make an apple pie.
Search engines can be accessed by using a browser on your computer, tablet, mobile phone, or other devices that have an internet connection.
Brief History of the Search Engine
The very first search engine was called Archie. It was created a year after the World Wide Web was invented. Archie worked in a very straightforward and simple manner — it searched FTP sites and created an index of downloadable files.
But because of limited space, only the listings were included, not the contents for each site. It served mainly as a directory of sites.
The next year, Tim Berners-Lee created the Virtual Library, or the World Wide Web Virtual Library (VLib). The CERN webserver hosted a list of web servers during the early days of the Internet.
After this, a lot of other search engines popped up, including Veronica, Jughead, World Wide Web Wanderer, Primitive Web Search, Infoseek, Elnet Galaxy, ALIWEB, and others. It wasn’t until 1994 that Yahoo was invented. Google’s beginnings, BackRub, was created by Larry and Sergey in 1996. Google was officially launched four years after BackRub. Today, there are hundreds of search engines that crawl the internet for information.
How Search Engines Work
Different web search engines utilize different algorithms to determine which web pages are the most relevant for the search engine keyword the user used for the query. This algorithm also decides the ranking of the web pages and which ones should appear at the top of the search engine results page.
There are three stages that happen when a user types in a keyword into the search engine search field:
- Information retrieval – The user query prompts the search engine to return results, and these results are ranked hierarchically according to trust and relevance signals.
- Web crawling – The search engine’s bots or spiders scour the web in a systematic and automated manner.
- Indexing – The search engine analyzes the results by titles, headings, and other specific elements. This is actually the fastest form of search.
Search engines operate based on their search algorithms, and these unique algorithms have different ranking signals. One common ranking signal is relevancy. Relevancy is an important factor for online search engines because users generally prefer a search engine that would provide them with the most relevant and high-quality results.