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Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy

Search

See the recent changes at the end.

Following are some search engines which are more privacy-centric than those offered by the privacy-hating mega-corporations like Google and Bing.

Unlike meta search engines such as DuckDuckGo, Startpage, etc., which rely either partially or entirely upon third parties for their results (primarily Bing and Google), all search engines listed here maintain their own indexes meaning they actively crawl the web in search of new and updated content to add to their catalogs. A few are hybrids, meaning they rely partially upon a 3rd party engine.

Although meta search engines are often referred to as alternative search engines, they are not true alternatives since they are subject to the same censorship/de-ranking practices of the company upon which they rely. Such search engine companies are really proxies in that they may provide a valuable service by insulating you from privacy intrusive third party services.

If you are going to use a meta search engine which relies upon a 3rd party, those which depend on Microsoft's Bing will generally return better results than those which rely on Google, especially when searching for sensitive and censored information.

If you have any indexing search engines you would like to suggest, leave a comment (you need not be logged in). To install search engine plugins for Firefox, see Firefox Search Engine Cautions, Recommendations.

Legend:

  • Decentralized: whether the service depends upon centralized servers, such as Google, or distributed among its users, such as YaCy
  • Type: indexing search engines crawl the web and index content without relying on a 3rd party, whereas hybrid search engines are a combination of both meta and index
  • Requires JS / Cookies: whether the website requires JavaScript and/or cookies (web storage) in order to function
  • Self Contained: whether the website uses 3rd party resources, such as Google fonts, etc.
  • Client Required: whether you have to install client software in order to use the service
  • Privacy Policy: a link to their privacy policy

Brave Search

Search Page Decentralized Type Requires JS / Cookies Self Contained Client Required Privacy Policy
search page no hybrid JS: no 1 Cookies: no 2 yes no link

Brave Search is in the process of building its own index, however until that is complete it also pulls results from 3rd parties, though it is unclear what 3rd parties are queried.

The search interface is attractive and intuitive. Unfortunately there are few options for tailoring the search results or the interface, however some of the more important options are in place, including regional and date search options.

Gigablast

Search Page Decentralized Type Requires JS / Cookies Self Contained Client Required Privacy Policy
search page no index JS: yes Cookies: no yes no ?

Gigablast is a free and open source search engine that maintains its own index.

The search interface offers some useful options, such as selecting the format of the output, several interesting sorting options, time span options, file type options and plenty of advanced syntax options.

I couldn't find a privacy policy, but decided to include it anyway since it is open source.

You can install and run Gigablast on your own server.

Good Gopher

Search Page Decentralized Type Requires JS / Cookies Self Contained Client Required Privacy Policy
search page no index JS: no Cookies: no no no link

Good Gopher was apparently developed by Mike Adams, editor of the NaturalNews.com website, and appears to be unmaintained.

As stated in the Good Gopher privacy policy, their search results are censored in that they filter out what they and their users consider to be "corporate propaganda and government disinfo", while simultaneously promoting the undisputed heavyweight king of alt-media propaganda and disinformation, Alex "Bullhorn" Jones of InfoWars.

The core of their privacy policy consists of a few vague paragraphs, the bulk of which has nothing to do with user privacy.

Revenue is generated by displaying ads in the search results, though they state they are very particular about who may advertise on the platform.

LookSeek

Search Page Decentralized Type Requires JS / Cookies Self Contained Client Required Privacy Policy
search page no index JS: no Cookies: no no no link

LookSeek appears to be owned by Applied Theory Networks LLC and apparently has been around a while. The software seems to be propitiatory, but they do have a decent, clear and brief privacy policy.

The search interface is rudimentary, to say the least, and there doesn't appear to be any configuration options.

LookSeek states they have "no political or social bias".

Mojeek

Search Page Decentralized Type Requires JS / Cookies Self Contained Client Required Privacy Policy
search page no index JS: no Cookies: no 2 yes no link

Mojeek is a UK based company which operates it's own crawler and promises to return unbiased results. I think Mojeek is the most usable search engine listed here and future enhancements are in the works.

The search interface is clean and they offer several options to customize how searching works and how the interface looks. One can also configure how many search results per domain are returned and if more than that number are available, Mojeek adds a link under the results which will open a new page with those results when clicked. If you enter a domain as the search term, Mojeek offers the option to search within that domain.

Mojeek offers advanced search options which add some useful parameters to configure what results are returned.

The engine supports some search operators including site: and since:, the latter of which is similar to the date: operator used by Google.

Mojeek has a simple, clear and solid privacy policy. I emailed Mojeek with a few questions and received the following:

Q: Are your results provided entirely by your crawler, or are they supplemented by any 3rd parties, such as Bing, etc.?
A: Our organic search results are provided entirely by our own crawler; Mojeek is dependent upon no other search engines when it comes to the act of providing organic search results.

Q: Can you give me any details/statistics regarding your index, such as its size or any other information you care to share.
A: Currently we have over 4.7-billion pages indexed and we are growing at a rate of about 5-million pages a day.

Q: If you care to comment, i'd be interested in knowing the challenges Mojeek faces in light of 'big tech' - i understand that the Google's of the world are making it very difficult for the little guy to actually crawl the www.
A: A relevant issue to this would be that we follow the rules of robots.txt, and every now and again this means we come across sites that are set up with Google and/or Bing crawlers okayed in their robots.txt file but often not other crawlers. As we are a good actor this is normally a case of contacting the site owner and getting it changed, but this can be quite a lot of work for a small search engine such as ourselves.

Private.sh

Search Page Decentralized Type Requires JS / Cookies Self Contained Client Required Privacy Policy
search page no index JS: yes Cookies: no yes no ?

Private.sh uses the Gigablast engine and is therefore very similar in terms of search results. I felt it was worth having its own entry because they offer additional layers of privacy which strips your IP address and encrypts searches on the client using JavaScript before they are sent to the server, thus even Private.sh apparently doesn't know what you're searching for. As with Gigablast however, there is no privacy policy.

Qwant - read description before using Qwant

Search Page Decentralized Type Requires JS / Cookies Self Contained Client Required Privacy Policy
search page no hybrid JS: yes Cookies: no 2 yes no link

Qwant, based in France, claimed to provide unbiased results, however on March 1, 2022, the company admitted to engaging in censorship when it tweeted the following:

In accordance with the EU sanctions, we have removed the Russian state media RT and Sputnik from our results today. The neutral web should not be used for war propaganda.

Qwant is currently a hybrid which maintains its own index but it relies heavily on Bing.

The search interface is pleasant, colorful and easy to use, though there are not many options. They also have a lite version that does not require JavaScript, however both the standard and lite versions use redirects and other strings in the result links that are unnecessary. For example, using Qwant Lite to search for '12bytes.org' produces links like the following:

https://lite.qwant.com/redirect/MTU5Y2U0M2U3MTA3MmY5ZmM2Y2I4MmU0NzVhNGU3YTA5OTA1NGQwMDYyMTkwYmIxMjk2MzRjNTI5MzUxOTA0MA==/aHR0cHMlM0ElMkYlMkYxMmJ5dGVzLm9yZyUyRg==?position=1&serp_position=1&t=web&locale=en_us&query=12bytes.org&ad=0&uri=%2F%3Fq%3D12bytes.org&cacheKey=1f0eccbc962fd19fbf4f7d9b2e3c91059

Their privacy policy is reasonably strong and revenue is generated by displaying ads in the search results.

'The Hated One' posted an interesting audio interview with European Mozilla founder and Qwant CEO Tristan Nitot on his BitChute channel: Qwant CEO and Mozilla founder Tristan Nitot on Microsoft monopoly, surveillance and Internet freedom. Discussion about Qwant starts around the 46:00 mark.

Right Dao

Search Page Decentralized Type Requires JS / Cookies Self Contained Client Required Privacy Policy
search page no index JS: no Cookies: no yes no link

Right Dao is a U.S. based company.

The search interface is bare and there are no options other than the ability to perform an advanced search. There are only two scopes of searches, they being web and news.

Right Dao searches seem to be fairly comprehensive and so this search engine is a solid choice when looking for politically sensitive information that Google and others censor. While the engine accepts phrase searches, that functionality seems to be very broken.

Their privacy policy is reasonably strong.

YaCy

Search Page Decentralized Type Requires JS / Cookies Self Contained Client Required Privacy Policy
search page yes index JS: yes Cookies: no yes optional ?

While YaCy doesn't produce a lot of search results since not enough people use it yet, i think it's one of the more interesting search engines listed here.

YaCy is a decentralized, distributed, censorship resistant search engine and index powered by free, open-source software. For those wanting to run their own instance of YaCy, see their home and GitHub pages. This article from Digital Ocean may also be helpful.

Footnotes

  1. While JavaScript is not strictly required, functionality may be limited if it is disabled.
  2. Refusing to accept cookies may result in settings not being saved.

Upcoming search engines

Alexandria

Alexandria is a very new, open-source search engine with its own index, though it's currently built using a 3rd party. The first version of the source code appeared on GitHub in late 2021. The index is very small at the moment and therefore the service isn't really useful yet.

The interface is sparse and there are currently no options for customizing anything, however there are plans to improve the service.

There was no formal privacy policy at the time of writing, however the little information there is indicates a strong regard for privacy. By default they store IP addresses along with search queries in order to improve the service, however they promise to never share this information and there is an option to disable this behavior.

Alexandria is worth keeping an eye on.

I contacted Alexandria in April of 2022 with some questions. Following is our exchange:

Q: what are your values regarding user privacy?
A: We care a lot about user privacy and plan to let users decide how much they want to share. We run Alexandria.org as a non-profit so we have no incentive to store any info other than to make the search results better.

Q: i see that you have a dependency on rsms.me - depending on 3rd parties is always a privacy and security concern and i think it is often unnecessary - it looks like it's only css that's being imported at the moment, but do you plan on adding any other 3rd party dependencies?
A: Yes we use the Inter font which is open source, we just think it is a nice looking font. We generally have a high threshold for using a 3rd party dependencies but I think it is impossible to build everything ourselves so if there are things other people are better at than us and it is not in our core mission to build it we will use third party solutions. For example we depend on Hetzner for servers, we depend on commoncrawl for high volume scraping. But it's quite likely that we remove that dependency when we redesign the website next time.

Q: what are the long-term goals for Alexandria?
A: The long terms goal is to make knowledge as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. We want to give the users of alexandria.org info that are in their best interest without having to think about advertisers or other third parties.

Q: will you offer unbiased results?
A: Our bias should be to show the results that are likely to be the most useful for users, so that is what we are aiming for.

Q: do you respect robots.txt? personally i'm fine with it if you do not since it seems Big Tech is making it difficult for the little guy to compete in this market
A: Our index is primarily built with data from Common Crawl. But when we do crawling our self we respect robots.txt. Our main problem with scraping is not robots.txt, but that many big/valuable sources of information are behind cloudflare and similar services or otherwise closed to scarping.

Q: how do you plan to finance the project?
A: In the long term we hope to be able to finance it with donations.

Q: what is the current size of your index roughly (pages) and at what rate is it growing?
A: Right now we are just using a very small index while rebuilding big parts of the system. The current index is around 100 million urls. Pretty soon we plan to have 10 billion urls indexed.

Q: what search operators will you/do you support (site:, title:, date: etc.)?
A: None right now. The first one we will implement is site: since it is quite simple.

Q: because the code is available, will anyone be able to run Alexandria on their own server and how will that work? will each instance be independent, or might the indexes be shared across all servers?
A: Our index is not open source at the moment. So anyone who want's to create their own search engine will have to create their own index by crawling the web themselves or downloading data from common crawl or similar.

Presearch

Like Searx, Presearch is (currently) yet another meta search engine which is ultimately powered by Big Tech in that it relies on multiple corporate giants for its search results.

Unlike Searx, it is currently centralized, though decentralization is a stated goal. In the future Presearch is to be powered largely or entirely by the community in that anyone can run a node and help build an index with content curated by users.

The interface is interesting in that you can select among many different search categories, however it unnecessarily requires JavaScript to be enabled before one can initiate a search and again to display any results.

Presearch uses code from several 3rd parties including bootstrapcdn.com, coinmarketcap.com, cloudfront.net and hcaptcha.com. Such dependencies are often unnecessary, resulting in bloated and potentially insecure platforms which may not be privacy friendly.

Presearch incorporates "PRE" tokens, yet another form of digital currency apparently used for a variety of purposes, one of them being to incentivize the growth of infrastructure and another being to insure the integrity of the platform. I'm not convinced this is right path, but then i don't fully understand it either.

I think Presearch has potential, but the realization of its goals of decentralization and the building of its own index need to be met before it becomes a viable service.

Reader suggested search engines that didn't make the cut

Cliqz

The Cliqz search engine, which is an index and not a proxy, is largely owned by Hubert Burda Medi. The company offers a "free" web browser built on Firefox.

It appears there are two primary privacy policies which apply to the search engine and both are a wall of text. As is often the case, they begin by telling readers how important your privacy is ("Protecting your privacy is part of our DNA") and then spend the next umpteen paragraphs iterating all the allegedly non-personally identifying data they collect and the 3rd party services they use to process it, which then have their own privacy policies.

In 2017 the morons at Mozilla corporate made the mistake of partnering with Cliqz and suffered significant backlash when it was discovered that everything users typed in their address bar was being sent to Cliqz. You can read more about this on HN, as well as a reply from Cliqz, also on HN.

Gibiru

I was anxious to try this engine after seeing it listed in NordVPN's article, TOP: Best Private Search Engines in 2019! and so i loaded the website and i liked what they had to say. Unfortunately, Gibiru not only depends on having JavaScript enabled, it depends on having it enabled for Google as well. Fail! It seems Gibiru is little more than a Google front-end and a poor one at that.

Search Encrypt

I added Search Encrypt to the list and later removed it because, to put it bluntly, its f'n garbage. Their selling point is "Search Encrypt encrypts your search terms between your computer and searchencrypt.com". Well imagine the novelty of that. Or not, because so does every other search engine and website that uses SSL.

The website uses cookies and JavaScript by default, their ToS is a wall of corporate gibberish and their privacy policy is weak.

Lastly, Search Encrypt doesn't seem to provide any information about how they obtain their search results, though both the results and interface reek of Google and reading between the lines clearly indicates it is a meta search engine.

Search Encrypt was also recommended by NordVPN who seems happy to promote such garbage.

Yippy

Like Search Encrypt, Yippy is another ethically challenged company with a poor privacy policy looking to attract investors. Yippy uses cookies by default and won't function without JavaScript. This one is also recommended by NordVPN.

De-listed search engines

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo has openly admitted to censoring and de-ranking search results as well as working with Microsoft's Bing in order to influence their results (DuckDuckGo relies heavily on Bing). In one instance they blacklisted voat.co, a former free speech social platform, and on March 10, 2022, DuckDuckGo's CEO, Gabriel Weinberg, tweeted the following:

Like so many others I am sickened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the gigantic humanitarian crisis it continues to create. #StandWithUkraine️ At DuckDuckGo, we've been rolling out search updates that down-rank sites associated with Russian disinformation.

Weinberg apparently had no problem when the U.S. invaded Iraq, Syria, Libya, etc., nor any problem with Black Lives Matter and Antifa terrorists burning and looting cities throughout the U.S., but he suddenly developed a selective crises of conscious when Russia invades Ukraine, which happens to be full of U.S. supported terrorists.

DuckDuckGo also admitted to influencing Microsoft's Bing search results according to a New York Times article:

DuckDuckGo said it "regularly" flagged problematic search terms with Bing so they could be addressed.

DuckDuckGo continues its race to the bottom. From an April 15, 2022, TorrentFreak article:

DuckDuckGo 'Removes' Pirate Sites and YouTube-DL from Its Search Results:

Privacy-centered search engine DuckDuckGo has completely removed the search results for many popular pirates sites including The Pirate Bay, 1337x, and Fmovies. Several YouTube ripping services have disappeared, too and even the homepage of the open-source software youtube-mp3 is unfindable.

On or around 25 May, 2022, it was discovered that DuckDuckGo was allowing tracking by Microsoft:

DuckDuckGo is not safe to browse as Microsoft tracks user data | Technology News – India TV

DuckDuckGo's founder Gabriel Weinberg has admitted to the company's agreement with Microsoft for allowing them to track the user's activity. He further stated that they are taking to Microsoft to change their agreement clause for users' confidentiality.

more...

Startpage

As of somewhere around 2018 or 2019, Startpage was partially bought out by Privacy One Group/System1 which appears to be a data collection/advertising company. Source: Software Removal | Startpage.com

Other search engines

The Search Engine Party website by Andreas is well worth visiting. He has done an excellent job of compiling a large list of search engines and accompanying data. Also see the 'A look at search engines with their own indexes' page by Rohan Kumar who did an excellent job of compiling a list of engines that maintain their own index, however do note that privacy was not considered.

Evaluating search engines

There are several tests that you can perform in order to determine the viability of a search engine. To get a sense of whether the results are biased, i often search for highly controversial subjects such as "holocaust revisionism". If you preform such a search using Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo, with or without quoting it, most or all of the first results link only to mainstream sources which attempt to debunk the subject rather than provide information regarding it. If you perform the same query using Mojeek however, the difference quite dramatic. Rohan Kumar also offers several great tips for evaluating search engines in his article, A look at search engines with their own indexes:

  • "vim", "emacs", "neovim", and "nvimrc": Search engines with relevant results for "nvimrc" typically have a big index. Finding relevant results for the text editors "vim" and "emacs" instead of other topics that share the name is a challenging task.
  • "vim cleaner": should return results related to a line of cleaning products rather than the Correct Text Editor.
  • "Seirdy": My site is relatively low-traffic, but my nickname is pretty unique and visible on several of the highest-traffic sites out there.
  • "Project London": a small movie made with volunteers and FLOSS without much advertising. If links related to the movie show up, the engine’s really good.
  • "oppenheimer": a name that could refer to many things. Without context, it should refer to the physicist who worked on the atomic bomb in Los Alamos. Other historical queries: "magna carta" (intermediate), "the prince" (very hard).

Lessons learned from the Findx shutdown

The founder of the Findx search engine, Brian Rasmusson, shut down operations and detailed the reasons for doing so in a post titled, Goodbye – Findx is shutting down. I think the post is of significant interest not only to the end user seeking alternatives to the ethically corrupt mega-giants like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc., but also to developers who have an interest in creating a privacy-centric, censorship resistant search engine index from scratch. Following are some highlights from the post:

Many large websites like LinkedIn, Yelp, Quora, Github, Facebook and others only allow certain specific crawlers like Google and Bing to include their webpages in a search engine index (maybe something for European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager to look into?) Other sites put their content behind a paywall. [...]Most advertisers won’t work with you unless you either give them data about your users, so they can effectively target them, or unless you have a lot of users already. Being a new and independent search engine that was doing the time-consuming work of growing its index from scratch, and being unwilling to compromise on our user’s privacy, Findx was unable to attract such partners. [...]We could not retain users because our results were not good enough, and search feed providers that could improve our results refused to work with us before we had a large userbase … the chicken and the egg problem. [...]From forbidding crawlers to index popular and useful websites and refusing to enter into advertising partnerships without large user numbers, to stacking the requirements for search extension behaviour in browsers, the big players actively squash small and independent search providers out of their market.

I think the reasons for the Findx shutdown highlight the need for decentralized, peer-to-peer solutions like YaCy. If we consider the problems Findx faced with the data harvesting, social engineering giants like Google, Facebook and the various CDN networks like Cloudflare, i think they are the sort of problems that can be easily circumvented with crowdsourced solutions. Any website can block whatever search crawler they want and there can be good reasons for doing so, but as Brian points out, there are also stupid and unethical reasons for doing so. With a decentralized P2P solution anyone could run a crawler and this could mitigate a lot of problems, plus force the walled garden giants such as Facebook to have their content scraped.

Resources

Recent changes

Most recent first.

  • minor edits
  • added contents of email exchange with Alexandria
  • many mostly trivial edits
  • removal of all search engines which are largely of the meta type - this was triggered by the recent admission of censorship by the CEO of DuckDuckGo
  • updated info for DuckDuckGo... or is it DuckDuckGone?

45 thoughts on “Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy”

    1. he isn’t really testing censorship

      mojeek, for example, isn’t censoring, but it may not return a link to an article that was published very recently (mojeek is a small company and can take more time to list such results)

      for example, the search he did, https://www.mojeek.com/search?q=CONFIRMED%3A+Obama+Began+Biolab+Agreements+in+Ukraine+As+Early+As+2005+As+Senator, which failed to return the expected result, now returns the expected result – it was last crawled 3 days ago (i don’t when it was first crawled)

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