Which private search engine is the most private?
If you’re looking for a new search engine that will protect your privacy, you’re at the right place. As a privacy advocate, folks are often asking me what search engine they should be using. While it’s entirely up to you what private search engine fulfills your needs, I can give share with you what I consider before recommending a private search engine and a quick summary of the major differences between the leading options.
Selecting the top private search engines
With so many search engines already on the market and privacy gaining in popularity, you may not be surprised to hear about how many search engines ask to be included on my site ThinkPrivacy. With an influx of new services comes questions about who you can trust, what makes them different from each other, and who is giving me the best search results.
I eliminated all search engines that collect even partial IP addresses or share identifying information with advertisers and/or those processing their search results.
In the end, I was left with Startpage, DuckDuckGo, Mojeek, and SearX. Here, I will focus on the first three. I won’t dive into SearX because it is best served as a self-hosted search option that can be programmed to scrape results from any search engine you please. Usually, SearX is used by more advanced users or people with a more serious threat model.
Below is a summary of each search engine based on the criteria set above.
- IP Address Protection: When you visit Startpage, their servers change your IP address to 0.0.0.0 rather than logging any amount of your IP address.
- Revenue Model & Search Index Partner(s): Startpage makes its money via ads that are served through Google’s Ad Network. Ads are served based on search terms alone and not the user’s profile or previous searches. Google does not receive any identifiable information about the user. When it comes to search results, they pull their results directly and anonymously from Google.
- Features: Anonymous View. With Anonymous Views, users can open search results through a proxy server that acts much like a VPN or Tor browser, hiding the users IP and other identifiable information from the page being visited.
- Country of Jurisdiction: The Netherlands
- Quality of search results: 5 out of 5 stars on search results. Now, you may be thinking “of course a Startpage consultant is giving Startpage 5 stars” and you may be right, but don’t forget that Startpage is pulling their results from easily the largest search indexing company on the planet. With many other search engines, you will often find yourself checking Google just to make sure you got good results. Here, you don’t ever have to check Google when you’re using Startpage.
Install always-on privacy
Install Startpage's private search browser extension.
- Revenue Model Search Index Partner(s): DuckDuckGo generates the majority of its revenue through ads that are served through Microsoft’s Ad Network. Ads are served based on search terms alone and not the user’s profile or previous searches. Also, DuckDuckGo has an affiliate partnership with Amazon and eBay in which they paid for search results that result in sales through those sites. According to their documentation, they do not share any identifiable information about the user with Microsoft of their affiliate partners. DuckDuckGo gets the majority of its search results from Microsoft Bing. It does also boast its own web crawler and more than 400 other indexing partners.
- Features: Bangs. Bangs allow you to easily switch from DuckDuckGo to a search engine of your choice. If you use !g, you will then begin searching on Google. This is helpful if you’re not getting the quality results you need.
- Country of Jurisdiction: United States.
- Quality of search results: 4 of 5 stars. To be honest, for many searches, DuckDuckGo does a really good job. You get what you’d expect. However, as a developer you will find their results greatly lacking in good results, and even more so the more obscure your searches. This is remedied with their Bang function, but then you’re leaving a privacy-respecting search engine for one that is not.
- IP Address Protection: When you visit Mojeek, they replace your IP address with the code of the country you’re visiting from. While this does offer protection, when coupled with your country code and user agent, can theoretically begin to create a traceable profile.
- Revenue Model Search Index Partner(s): Currently, Mojeek is a privately funded search engine and does not serve ads on their site. Additionally, they do not use any third-party indexing services and rely solely on their own web crawler.
- Features: Emotions (demo). Emotions is a new feature currently offered as a demo, which allows users to select their mood around a search. For example, if you search for a celebrity and select “love” you will get positive results about that person. Select “Angry” and you’ll get critical results. In addition, they also offer other emotions such as wow, funny, and sad.
- Country of Jurisdiction: United Kingdom
- Quality of search results: 3 out of 5 stars. The results for various topics ranged in relevancy. For example, when searching for a name of someone who is currently in the news the results show a lot of outdated sources.
The key difference between Startpage, DuckDuckGO, and Mojeek
Each search engine handles searches and policies a little differently, yet each takes great efforts to protect your privacy. What really sets each search engine apart is its results. Google is the top search engine on the market because it has the largest search index. Thus, it’s a huge bonus to get Google results with Startpage.
With any of these private search engines, you’re getting companies that care about your privacy, which is comforting. From there, it’s going to be up to you to find the search engine that’s right for you.
Dan Arel is a privacy and digital rights activist, founder and curator of ThinkPrivacy.ch, as well as an award-winning journalist, and best-selling author. His work has appeared in the Huff Post, OpenSource, Hacker Noon, Time Magazine, and more. You can follow him on Twitter @danarel.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Startpage.