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Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy

Privacy-centric search engines

Article last updated: 3-Oct-2018

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).

Legend:

  • Centralized / 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 local client software in order to use the service
  • Privacy Policy: rated between 1 and 4 stars where 4 stars indicates a very strong policy
NameCentralized / DecentralizedTypeRequires JS / CookiesClient RequiredPrivacy Policy

Disconnect

(search page SSL)

centralizedmetaJS: no [2]
Cookies: no [3]
no client requiredprivacy policy
∗∗∗

Notes: Disconnect apparently pulls results from Yahoo, Bing and DuckDuckGo, though when i tested it, it forwarded all searches to DuckDuckGo regardless of what preferred search engine is set. Personally i see no advantage to Disconnect over other meta search engines.

DuckDuckGo

(search page, SSL)

centralizedhybridJS: no
Cookies: no [3]
no client requiredprivacy policy
∗∗∗

Notes: DuckDuckGo is over hyped in my opinion. DuckDuckGo claims to pull its search results from over 400 sources including Wikipedia, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex, as well as its own crawler. Its interface is similar to Google. The company generates revenue from ads which 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 JS or cookies.

Findx

(search page, SSL)

centralizedindexJS: no
Cookies: no [3]
no client requiredprivacy policy
∗∗∗

Notes: Findx is a fork of Gigablast and, like Gigablast, it is also open-source software. Its interface is plain and functional, though they don’t provide a lot of options to customize it. Findx generates revenue through ads and partnerships and though the ads are clearly marked, there is no option to disable them.

Gigablast

(search page, SSL)

centralizedindexJS: yes
Cookies: no
no client required?

Notes: Gigablast is an interesting, open source search engine that maintains its own index. You can install and run Gigablast on your own server. 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.

MetaGer

(search page, SSL)

centralizedhybrid?JS: no [2]
Cookies: no [3]
no client requiredprivacy policy
∗∗∗

Notes: MetaGer, which has been around for a couple decades, claims to pull results from up to 50 other search engines.

Mojeek

(search page, SSL)

centralizedindexJS: no
Cookies: no
no client requiredprivacy policy
∗∗

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 job of a search engine provider to police how people use it. Regarding this particular case, what if one is researching child trafficking, or pedophilia?

Oscobo

(search page)

centralized?JS: no
Cookies: no
no client requiredprivacy policy
∗∗∗

Notes: Oscobo has a somewhat vague privacy policy and it is unclear whether they index the web or use 3rd party services.

Peekier

(search page, SSL)

centralizedmetaJS: yes
Cookies: no [3]
no client requiredprivacy policy
∗∗∗∗

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 clean, strong and short.

Qwant

(search page, SSL)

centralizedhybridJS: yes
Cookies: no [3]
no client requiredprivacy policy
∗∗∗∗

Notes: Qwant, based in France, is an interesting search engine. It is a hybrid in that they use crawlers, but also pull some results from Bing. The interface is pleasant, colorful and easy to use, though there are not many configuration options. Their privacy policy is pretty solid.

Search Encrypt

(search page, SSL)

centralizedmeta?JS: yes
Cookies: no
browser extension optionalprivacy policy
∗∗∗

Notes: Search Encrypt seems to have a decent privacy policy, though it is vague in some areas. For example, they don’t explain exactly what user data they do collect. The interface offers very few options and they do not make it clear as to whether they rely on 3rd parties for search results.

Searx

(search page, SSL)

partially decentralizedmetaJS: no
Cookies: no [3]
no client requiredn/a

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

Startpage/Ixquick

(search page, SSL)

centralizedmetaJS: no [2]
Cookies: no [3]
no client requiredprivacy policy
∗∗∗∗

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. Although they do use 1×1 pixel GIF images, i was told they used for tracking purposes. [1]

Swisscows

(search page, SSL)

centralizedindex?JS: yes
Cookies: no
no client requiredprivacy policy
∗∗∗∗

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.”

YaCy

(search page, SSL, self-signed certificate)

decentralizedindexJS: yes
Cookies: no
optional client requiredn/a

Notes: YaCy is, in my opinion, the most interesting search engine listed here in that it is a decentralized, distributed, censorship resistant search engine and index powered by free, open-source software. At this time YaCy doesn’t produce a lot of pertinent search results, however the more people use it, the better it will become. For those wanting to run your own instance of YaCy, see their home page and their GitHub page. This article from Digital Ocean may also be of help if you want to run YaCy on a VPS.

Upcoming search engines

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

Please leave a comment if you know of any others.

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.

3 thoughts on “Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy

    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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