Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy

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This article was last updated on 8-Dec-2018. See the most recent changes at the end of this article.

Following are some search engines which are more privacy-centric than those offered by the privacy-hating mega-corporations like Google, Bing and Yahoo. Note that several of those listed here are partially or wholly meta search engines, meaning they do not index the web themselves and instead rely either partially or entirely upon third parties for their search results, especially Google. Although these meta search engines are often referred to as “alternative search engines”, they are not true alternatives, however they do provide a valuable service in that they act as a proxy between you and third party services such as Google, thus they can insulate you from the privacy risks associated with the big search companies.

If you have any search engines you would like to suggest, please leave a comment (you need not be logged in).

If you want to install the search engines that i personally use in Firefox, see the article, Firefox Search Engine Cautions, Recommendations.

Legend:

  • Decentralized: whether the service is controlled by a single entity, such as Google, or distributed among its users, such as YaCy
  • Type: meta: uses 3rd party search indexes, such as Google, to deliver search results
    index: crawls the web and indexes content without relying on 3rd party search engines
    hybrid: a combination of both the above
  • Requires JS / Cookies: whether the web interface requires JavaScript and/or cookies (web storage) in order to function
  • Client Required: whether you have to install client software in order to use the service
  • Privacy Policy: a link to their privacy policy
  • Privacy / Overall: 1 to 4 star ratings for both the strength of their privacy policy and the overall usability of the search engine

Disconnect

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nometaJS: no 2
Cookies: no 3
nolink∗∗ / ∗

Notes: Disconnect apparently pulls results from Yahoo, Bing and DuckDuckGo, however when i tested it, Disconnect forwarded all searches to DuckDuckGo. Their privacy policy is is OK, but nothing to brag about. Personally i see no advantage whatsoever to using Disconnect over any of the other meta search engines listed here.

DuckDuckGo

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nohybridJS: no
Cookies: no 3
nolink∗∗∗ / ∗∗∗

Notes: Though DuckDuckGo is a decent search engine, their service is over hyped in my opinion. DDG claims to pull its search results from over 400 sources including Wikipedia, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex, as well as from its own crawler. The interface is similar to Google. Revenue is generated by displaying ads in the search results, though this can be disabled in the settings, and also by inserting affiliate links for certain e-commerce sites. DuckDuckGo also offers a ‘lite’ version which does not use JavaScript or cookies.

Gigablast

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)noindexJS: yes
Cookies: no
no?? / ∗∗

Notes: Gigablast is a free and open source search engine that maintains its own index. While you can install and run Gigablast on your own server, it appears the source code is outdated and full of problems. The search interface offers some useful options, such as selecting the format of the output, sorting options, date options and file type options. I couldn’t find a privacy policy, but decided to include it anyway since it is open source.

Good Gopher

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nohybrid?JS: no
Cookies: no
nolink∗∗ / ∗∗

Notes: Good Gopher was apparently developed by Mike Adams, editor of the NaturalNews.com website. While Natural News is a good resource for information regarding alternative healthcare, Mike is prone to creating drama and using every opportunity to pimp his website and therefor is not someone i think highly of (you can read more here). 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 advertising for the undisputed heavyweight king of alt-media propaganda and disinformation, Alex “Bullhorn” Jones of InfoWars. It is unclear whether Good Gopher indexes the web or is a hybrid. The core of their privacy policy consists of a few vague paragraphs, the bulk of it having 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.

MetaGer

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nohybrid?JS: no 2
Cookies: no 3
nolink∗∗∗ / ∗∗

Notes: MetaGer, which has been around for a couple decades, is a free, open source search engine that claims to pull results from up to 50 other search engines. The search interface is plain and offers no options. Their privacy policy is lengthy, but strong and clear. Revenue is generated by displaying ads in the search results as well as donations.

Mojeek

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)noindexJS: no
Cookies: no
nolink∗∗ / ∗∗

Notes: The Mojeek search engine promises to return unbiased results and though the search interface is plain, they do offer some options to customize how searching works. Mojeek is a UK based company that has a decent privacy policy with one notable exception:

Mojeek does make one exception to this rule, if a search query is deemed related to illegal and unethical practices relating to minors, then the full log including visiting IP address will be kept and gladly handed over to any official authorities that ask.

In my opinion, it is not the responsibility of a search engine provider, nor any service provider, to police how people use it. Regarding this particular case, what if one is researching child trafficking, or pedophilia?

Oscobo

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)no?JS: no
Cookies: no
nolink∗∗ / ∗∗

Notes: Oscobo has a somewhat vague privacy policy regarding exactly what information they collect. It is unclear whether they index the web or use 3rd party services. Revenue is generated by displaying ads in the search results.

Peekier

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nometaJS: yes
Cookies: no 3
nolink∗∗∗∗ / ∗∗

Notes: Peekier provides an interesting, though feature limited interface in the form of zoomable text and thumbnail images of the web pages corresponding to your search results, thus allowing you browse the results before visiting the source page. Peekier appears to pull its results from Bing only however, which is unfortunate. Their privacy policy is clear, strong and brief.

Qwant

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nohybridJS: yes
Cookies: no 3
nolink∗∗∗∗ / ∗∗

Notes: Qwant, based in France, is an interesting search engine and index that claims to provide unbiased results. It is currently a hybrid in that they use crawlers, but until their index is more complete they also pull some results from Bing. The interface is pleasant, colorful and easy to use, though there are not many configuration options. Quant also has a lite version that does not require JavaScript. Their privacy policy is solid. Revenue is generated by displaying ads in the search results.

Searx

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nometaJS: no
Cookies: no 3
no?? / ∗∗∗

Notes: Searx is a free, open source meta search engine which i have found to be the best of its type because of its ability to pull results from a wide array of third party services. Its interface is clean, customizable and intuitive. Anyone can run a Searx instance on their own server (see their GitHub page).

Startpage/Ixquick

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nometaJS: no 2
Cookies: no 3
nolink∗∗∗∗ / ∗∗∗

Notes: Startpage/Ixquick pulls its search results primarily from Google, though they are apparently in the process of making some changes. They have a strong privacy policy and an extensive Q&A page regarding privacy. Revenue is generated by displaying ads in the search results. Although they do use 1×1 pixel GIF images, i was told they are not used for tracking purposes. [1]

Swisscows

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)noindex?JS: yes
Cookies: no
nolink∗∗∗∗ / ∗∗∗

Notes: The Swisscows servers are located in Switzerland and the company has a solid privacy policy. The search interface is modern and interesting in that they use machine learning to evaluate your search terms in order to provide better results. Swisscows is described as “… the first intelligent answer engine because it is based on semantic information recognition and offers users intuitive help in their search for answers.” The results are censored in that violent and pornographic content is filtered with no apparent option to disable this. Swisscows is funded by donations and advertising.

Unbubble

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nometaJS: no 4
Cookies: no 3
nolink∗∗∗∗ / ∗∗∗

Notes: Unbubble looks like a decent search engine as far as meta search engines go. Like several other meta engines, Unbubble pulls its search results from multiple sources and though they apparently do not make available a list of sources, the search results are accompanied by the name of the originating site. An interesting aspect of Unbubble is that it claims to provide neutral results by reducing the filter bubble problem, hence its name, however it is unclear how they calculate the neutrality of the search results. While there are no options for selecting exactly which search engines to query, there are a number of other search and interface related options. Unbubble is financed through donations, sponsorships and partnerships. While there is an option to disable ads in the search settings, it is unclear to me as to whether this also disables ads from their sponsors, however you can read more about that here. For more about Unbubble, read what Brad Enslen has to say.

YaCy

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)yesindexJS: yes
Cookies: no
optional?? / ∗∗

Notes: While YaCy doesn’t produce a lot of search results since there’s not a lot of people using it yet, i think it’s the most interesting search engine 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.

Upcoming search engines

  • Presearch: a decentralized search engine powered by the community
  • Seeks: a web search proxy and collaborative distributed tool for web search

Please leave a comment if you know of any others.

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 why we need more decentralized, peer-to-peer solutions like YaCy. If we consider the problems Findx faced with the greed-driven 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 a crowdsourced solution. 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 reasons that lead to incomplete search results. Seems to me that one solution is to allow the user (you and me) to be the crawler and let them index the web. On one hand, this would hopefully mitigate most of the problems with misbehaving crawl bots, and on the other hand the ugly web giants such as Facebook would be forced to allow their content to be scraped.

Resources

Footnotes

[1] Startpage uses 1×1 pixel transparent GIF images in the page that serves search results. I had assumed these were tracking pixels and originally stated so in the notes above, however a representative from Startpage contacted me and explained that i was incorrect. Following is a Q&A from a couple of emails i exchanged with them:

Startpage: BTW StartPage/Ixquick do *not* use tracking images. What you noted are non-tracking clear GIFs. Here’s a KB article about that.

Me: regarding the 1×1 gif images, i don’t understand how an image can be used to prevent a 3rd party from setting a cookie – can you explain?

Startpage: We have a proxy service that lets you view a result anonymously (by clicking `Proxy` near a result). When you view a webpage this way, our servers load the page on your behalf, and then provide the content to you. That way the website you are viewing won’t see you. Their website content is served through our domain. Webpages have many ways to set cookies – through Javascript and otherwise. When we proxy the webpage on your behalf, we take many steps to prevent them from doing so. (If they did successfully set a cookie, the cookie would be stored on our domain.) To add extra protection, we then display this extra 1×1 image from our domain that includes cookie headers to *clear* any such cookies. That way, if any external website you viewed through our proxy manages to set a cookie on our proxy’s domain, we immediately clear that cookie.

Me: why several 1×1 images are used – why not just 1?

Startpage: It is simpler to offer a different image for each different aggregate count we are keeping.

Me: why do the file names appear to contain a UIN that changes with every search apparently?

Startpage: There is no identifier. Rather, there is something called an “anticache” parameter that has a random number. This prevents the image from being “cached” by the browser – as browser caching would prevent the loading – hence would prevent the aggregate counts from being correct.

Me: why are these clear gif’s are not loaded when 0 results are returned?

Startpage: A different part of the code is used when there are no results, so it might not include the same aggregate counts.

[2] Some functionality is lost if JavaScript is disabled.

[3] Personal preferences/settings are not saved if cookies are disabled.

[4] Setting preferences requires JavaScript

Recent changes

  • added additional info for Gigablast

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

  1. I was kind of skeptical about certain components in Gigablast code, then found the following:

    From Findx’s goodbye message.

    A word of warning
    The search engine was based on the Gigablast open-source search engine by Matt Wells. Normally I endorse the “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” saying, but… That was one of the biggest mistakes we made. Looking back, that codebase was outdated and we ended up putting way too much time and money into bug-fixing and optimizing it instead of adding new features. It was not as flexible or feature rich as it needed to be, to be the foundation of a modern search engine. We came close on a number of occasions to making a deal with Matt to develop it further, but every time he ended up disappearing. We will leave our version available for the foreseeable future, but our recommendation is clear – DO NOT USE IT – not ours, and especially not the original. Start somewhere else if you want to build a new search engine. Do not base your project on a one-man project, no matter how confidently it is “sold” to you.

    Maybe Gigablast should be removed. It’s hardly updated anyway.

    1. i read that too – i do appreciate the suggestion, but there are so few search indexes in the list that i hesitate to dump it – as far as the code warning, i don’t think that’s anything users need to worry about – that was meant for developers

      1. I found it more geared towards all users really, be it developer or general purpose user. Well because “Looking back, that codebase was outdated and we ended up putting way too much time and money into bug-fixing and optimizing it instead of adding new features. It was not as flexible or feature rich as it needed to be, to be the foundation of a modern search engine.” There was a discussion about the codebase being outdated and giving users multiple issues. It has been updated in years and there haven’t been any pull requests or commits to date.

    1. i added it, but i’m not overly impressed with it – they don’t even make it obvious whether they are meta, crawler or hybrid – still, thanks for suggesting it – it is another viable alternative to add to the list!

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