Your online life is one of the most attractive things for advertisers to track. Everything you read, write, search for or the videos you watch and the music you listen to is done online. And you don’t see what data the services you use stores about you.
Therefore, it can be nice to have a little privacy and use a private search engine, for example, when you have to find your spouse a birthday present, and you don’t want to see advertisements for shirts on all the websites you visit after you have bought your spouse the fancy shirt that they wished for.
What was the last you googled?
When you hear this question, there is no doubt what it means – What have you last searched the internet for.
In case you forget what you’ve recently googled you can see it in your history on Google, and Google can too of course – so it is not exactly a secret, especially for the advertisers using one of Google’s ad networks such as DoubleClick.
But what can you do when you don’t trust Google to keep your secrets?
What alternative search engines can you name?
Most people can name two alternatives to Google, some people can name four, but very few more than that.
How many can you name?
A couple of the most widely used search engines, other than Google, are Bing and Yahoo, and if you want to include international search engines, then the Russian Yandex and the Chinese Baidu are worth mentioning.
The problem with keeping your searches secret on the above-mentioned search engines is exactly the same as with Google.
Can I search in private when I am not logged in?
Microsoft, Google and Yahoo have email services where you can freely create an account. Once logged into your account, your searches are linked to your profile on each of these providers. It would be logical that when you log out of this account, your searches would be private, but no, they are not. Your online behaviour and search history will not be directly connected to your profile, but even when you are logged out, your search history is still gathered and connected to your computer or phone, and thus to you. To learn more about how your data is treated when you are not logged in, you can read Google’s policy here and Bing’s policy here.
Your search history is used for targeted advertising by default, even if you are not logged in. At Google you can see the settings for your search history in the Privacy Checkup section – please note that you must not log in to view the options. With Bing, it requires that you have an account and are logged in to access your personal settings.
How do you choose a private search engine?
If you would like some privacy and want to try a private search engine, here is a list of alternatives to the major search engines. All of these private search engines promise they will keep your secrets and do not store your personal searches or share them with anyone.
They are divided into two categories:
- Private metasearch engines
- Private search engines with their own databases
In fact, there is a need for a third category that combines the metasearch engine techniques with the more complex setup that is used to create a real search engine with its own database, or index as it is called when talking about search engines.
Private metasearch engines
A metasearch engine is a search engine that retrieves data from other data sources, and they don’t have their own index.
StartPage is a Dutch initiative that, due to a “Syndicted Web Search” agreement with Google, has the ability to show data from Google’s search index. This means that they display the results of searches on Google, but they hide your personal information. There is no chance that Google can link your search history to you, and Start Page promises that they don’t do it either.
DuckDuckGo also hides your searches and promises not to track you. DuckDuckGo is a US metasearch engine that has seen an impressive growth in the number of searches, initially after Snowden’s revelations, and later after Donald Trump was elected president. DuckDuckGo get their results from Bing, Yahoo and Yandex.
The combination of a metasearch engine and a real search engine can be considered here, because DuckDuckGo allows developers to connect to other sources. Read about DuckDuckGo’s sources here.
Private search engines
Private search engines build their own index by crawling the internet and save the content in a large database, in the same way that Google does.
Qwant is a French search engine, launched in 2013 and has focused on the French and German markets. In recent years, they have received some great investments, including from the German media group Axel Springer. Most recently, in February 2017 Qwant raised 18.5 million Euros in additional funding, which should make it possible for them to grow further in the European market.
Qwant’s solution is a little different than the others, although they have a crawler which collects data for their own index, as they write in their FAQ, “… it is a major task therefore we also use Bing results”
Qwant differs further from other private search engines by giving you the ability to create a personal account where you can save your preference, make ‘boards’ with your favourite searches, etc.
Findx is a private search engine based in Denmark, and focused on Europe and English-speaking countries. Findx is based on Open Source software, and therefore has the ability to provide a high level of transparency around both the functionality and technical development of the code. At findx we have chosen to collect data with our own crawler and create our own index to be completely independent of third parties. In the longer term, we believe it will give us the needed independence to not rely on third party sources.
Findx opened for beta access in 2016. We expect to release findx to the public in the first half of 2017. One of the features of findx that we believe will be most interesting is the possibility for users to adjust the algorithm used to search.
Findx is privately owned and developed by Privacore. In addition to findx, Privacore has also created a browser that makes it easier for you to browse privately on the internet. It will be launched later in 2017, and includes findx as the default search engine as well as embedded control tools to manage online tracking and cookies.
Other private search engines
There are other attempts to make private search engines. One example is searcx.me which is also an open source project, “a Privacy-Respecting, hackable metasearch engine”. And also Yacy allowing for decentralization by enabling you to install and operate your own search engine.
There are a number of smaller metasearch engines that also focus on being privacy aware.
Brian Schildt is employed by Privacore and part of the team behind the development of findx, therefore he has great insight into the market around private search engines.