What Are the Best Search Engines for Privacy?March 28, 2022 / My Data Removal Staff
For the majority of us, when we have a question, we google it. What did we do before Google was around, and when did “google” become a verb anyway? You might not realize it, but the search engine you use can have a big impact on your privacy.
Search Engine Definition
A search engine is a website that helps you find information on the internet. A search engine indexes the internet, which means that it visits every site and sticks it in a database sometimes called an index. They often revisit sites and update their index. When you search they show you results, usually based on what you searched, but also based on how popular the results are.
An incredible amount of information can be learned about you based on what you type into a search box and then click on afterwards. Search engines vary in how privacy-friendly they are. Essentially, the more information a search engine collects about you, the less privacy-friendly it is.
The most popular search engines
The most popular search engines today, based on market share, are Google 91%, Bing 3%, Baidu (Chinese) 2%, Yahoo! 2%, Yandex (Russian) 1%, and DuckDuckGo 1%. There are dozens more search engines, but most of them only have a sliver of market share.
Privacy-friendly search engines
There are a number of privacy friendly search engines. While we recommend DuckDuckGo because it is the most mainstream privacy-friendly option, any of them are a great option.
One of the main questions about these search engines is whose index of the internet do they use, meaning how robust is their index of the internet? If the index they use is out-of-date, infrequently updated, or incomplete, your search results will also be poor. Google has the best index since they have the most resources to constantly scour the internet.
The other big question is how do they make money (or do they even try to make money)? DuckDuckGo and a number of other private search engines still make money off of ads, but they do not tailor the ads to you, just to your search terms. They also stop tracking you once you leave search results page.
Privacy friendly search engines:
- DuckDuckGo (uses Bing’s index)
- StartPage (uses Google’s index)
- Swisscows (own index)
- Brave (own index)
- Qwant (Bing’s index)
- YaCy.net (decentralized index)
- There are ~20 more if you search for them. They mostly do the same thing.
Not using Google is a great first step
While Google is by far the most convenient and pervasive search engine, it is also the least privacy-friendly by far. Google has profiles on all of its users and collects an absurd amount of information on them.
In some ways, Google knows more about us than we know about ourselves. If we allow it, Google dictates a surprising amount of our actions: what route to take, what website to visit, how to respond to an email, etc. People give information to Google by asking questions they would never ask others. By not searching with Google, you are taking a great step towards improving your privacy.
How to change the default search engine on your desktop
If you want to change the search engine you use, you will need to update the default search engine in your settings. This is very simple and takes only a minute to do. The actual process will vary slightly depending on the browser that you use, but the steps below should help you successfully change your default search engine.
- 1. Go to your browser settings (usually you need to click something near the top right of your browser).
- 2. Type in the search box or scroll down to something like ‘search engine’ or ‘search’
- 3. Set your default search engine – select one
- ‘Manage search engines’ or ‘find more search engines’ will allow you to add a less popular option
Going forward, it will use that search engine instead of Google or whatever the default was before.
How to change the default search engine on your mobile device
- 1. Open the primary browser you use on your device.
- 2. Get to the settings menu (usually you’ll click something on the top or bottom right side of your device).
- 3. Click on the ‘search’ or ‘search engine’ option and select the default search engine you would like.
Change your search engine on all of your devices to a privacy-friendly option. We recommend DuckDuckGo, but any of the privacy-friendly options listed above will work great.
Consider changing your lexicon by switching out the verb ‘google’ with something that respects privacy (we agree that saying you will ‘duckduckgo’ something just doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as ‘googling’ something). But making this small change can help to change your mindset and actions to be more intentional regarding your privacy.
Consider using a privacy-friendly web browser with your privacy-friendly search engine. You could also consider clearing your browsing history and getting rid of unwanted tracking cookies.