Content updates, 29-Nov-2018

The following new articles were added:

Ethan Huff and the Green Swastika : Ethan, who writes for Natural News, is an idiot regarding Germany's role in WW2, the same as Mike "The Health Ranger" Adams is, the founder (or so i assume) of NN. He recently 'penned' an article titled The Green Swastika: Environmentalism was a pillar of the Third Reich, the content of which is far more absurd than its absurd title reveals. Ethan gets nearly everything wrong and provably so, and, as usual, i pull fewer than zero punches when addressing such mindless ignorance.

Resources for research : This is just a list of web resources which i've used for researching various stuff that i write about. I though i'd share it. Cause i'm like that.

VPS host review: Pride Tech Design : This website is currently hosted by Pride Tech and i wanted to write a review about their service in order to con everyone into signing up with them so i can start raking in piles of kickback cash from Simba at PTD. Either that, or i've written a reasonably neutral review of possibly one of the best VPS server hosts on this side of the Milky Way that i'm aware of. You decide.

The following articles were updated:

How to access RSS feeds for websites that don't advertise one : Some added information and polishing.

Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy : unbubble.eu was added to the list and the article underwent the application of some polish (and likely the correction of spellin' errors).

Take the Jewish Holocaust Quiz! : The quiz was handled by a plugin that hasn't been updated in years and so i dropped it and stuck the quiz on a regular page. It has also been updated.

A personal perspective: From Windows to Linux to Windows to Linux to… : I re-titled the article and applied some polish.

Firefox Search Engine Cautions, Recommendations : This article underwent some minor changes and an updated search.json.mozlz4 file for Firefox was uploaded.

Firefox Extensions – My Picks : I dumped all of the legacy (XUL) add-ons, swapped out some add-ons with other ones and added several new add-ons to the additional functionality list.

Article update: Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy

The article, Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy, was updated. More information was added for most of the search engines and a few errors and links were corrected. Sadly, Findx, which was based on the Gigablast code, was removed from the list since they ceased operations. Interestingly, Brian Rasmusson, the founder of Findx, disclosed that basing the Findx code on the Gigablast code was a significant mistake. He also detailed a list of other interesting problems the company faced in a final parting post, Goodbye – Findx is shutting down. The post is well worth reading for both end users that are interested in alternative search engines as well as developers who are interested in creating a new service.

Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy

It's time to stop relying on corporations which do not respect our privacy. Here are some search engines that, unlike Google, Bing and Yahoo, have a stronger focus on protecting your privacy.

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, 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 and Bing. 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 using the big search companies directly.

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

To install the search engines for Firefox, see 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
nolink2/1

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 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
nolink3/3

Notes: Though DuckDuckGo 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 offers a 'lite' version which does not use JavaScript or cookies. Worth watching is their promotional video, Google vs. DuckDuckGo.

Gigablast

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)noindexJS: yes
Cookies: no
no?? /2

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
nolink2/2

Notes: 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. 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 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
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)noindexJS: no
Cookies: no
nolink3/3

Notes: 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. What is most attractive is that LookSeek operates its own crawler and apparently does not rely on any 3rd party indexes. They also state that they have "no political or social bias".

MetaGer

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nohybrid?JS: no 2
Cookies: no 3
nolink3/2

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
nolink3/3

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 solid privacy policy.

Oscobo

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)no?JS: no
Cookies: no
nolink2/2

Notes: Oscobo has a plain interface with no options other than to search the web, images, etc.. Their privacy policy is vague regarding exactly what information they collect. It is unclear whether Oscobo indexes the web or uses 3rd party services but the latter is likely the case. 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
nolink4/2

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 actually visiting the page. Peekier appears to pull its results from Bing only, 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
nolink4/2

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 they pull some results from Bing until their index is more complete. 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?? / 3

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 and the comprehensive options it offers. The Searx interface is clean, highly customizable and intuitive. Anyone can run a Searx instance on their own server (see their GitHub page) if they wish, or use any of the existing Searx instances run by others.

Startpage/Ixquick

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)nometaJS: no 2
Cookies: no 3
nolink4/3

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. Startpage also offers an email service called Startmail. Although Startpage uses 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
nolink4/3

Notes: The Swisscows servers are located in… take a guess… 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.

YaCy

Search Page
DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy PolicyPrivacy / Overall
search page (SSL)yesindexJS: yes
Cookies: no
optional?? / 2

Notes: While YaCy doesn't produce a lot of search results since not enough people use 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

Please leave a comment if you know of any others.

Search engines that didn't make the cut

The following are search engines which claim to have a strong focus on privacy but, in my personal opinion, do not.

  • 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 read their introduction. 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 rather poor one at that.
  • Search Encrypt – This one was recommended by a commenter and, though i added it to the list initially, i 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 website that uses SSL, including Google. The site also 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 is also recommended by NordVPN.
  • Yippy – Like Search Encrypt, Yippy is another typical POS 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.

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

  • updated information for DuckDuckGo

New tut: Firefox Search Engine Cautions and Recommendations

A new tutorial has been published titled Firefox Search Engine Cautions and Recommendations which covers the risks to your privacy when using any of the major search engines in general, but specifically when using the default search engine plugins that are packaged with the Firefox web browser, though this problem is certainly not limited to Firefox. I also cover how to circumvent the risks to your privacy when using the default Firefox search engine plugins, as well as make suggestions for alternative search engines.

I have to say that i'm becoming more and more disillusioned with the multi-million dollar Mozilla corporation and its flagship product, Firefox. Firefox was never a great web browser in my opinion, but it is/was appealing to many because of how completely customizable it is. In it's earlier days it was just a little slow and buggy, but more recently Mozilla is making highly unethical choices with regard to the privacy-hating corporations they willingly partner with and how these partnerships have manifested and have been monetized in Firefox is a result of utter stupidity and greed in my opinion. I stuck with Firefox all these years because it has always been one of the most hackable browsers out there, but these days i stick with it primarily because i'm not (yet) able to reproduce the functionality i have added to it via add-ons with any other browser, and Chrome is out of the question, much less Google's spyware version of it.

It's sad and frustrating that a company who produced a decent, super-highly customizable browser for a niche market has lost its way and turned its back on the very market it once served by deciding to become a Google Chrome clone in order to appeal to the masses.

Screw you Mozilla.

But let's end on a lighter note, shall we? Here, have a look.