It has become an open-secret but can’t do much about it: big search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing help us find our work around the web while allowing them to take as much information about us as they want.
These popular search engines are data collection mill with no consideration for your privacy. They log your IP, your search terms, which results in you click on, how many times you bounce back to the results page, modify the search, and much more.
All this data enables them to build a “user map,” a summary of your browsing personality. They sell these maps for billions of dollars a year to advertisers, who attack you with targeted ads.
So how can you find what you need online without a business turning you into a product they market? Using smaller search engines that do not log your activity is a good step, to begin with.
We have studied the best search engines that shield your privacy, and while they may not be homie names, they can surely do the job if you know how to use them.
Best private search engines
Getting the best private search engine for your individual needs is unique, and there is no one-size-solution-all. You have many factors to consider. Ideally, the best search engine would deliver excellent results while also regarding your privacy. Perversely, there is usually a tradeoff here, so it really comes down to the user, and what you decide works best in your case.
Any of the private search engines in this article may be the ideal fit for your needs. You can test them all to see which one is the best fit.
Here are the best private search engines:
1).MetaGer – Open source metasearch engine, great features
MetaGer is an open-source metasearch engine headquartered in Germany, which gets search results from Yandex, Bing, Yahoo, and others, as well as having its web crawler. It is an exciting project that started in 1996 and is now run by a non-profit foundation in Germany called SUMA-EV (Association for Free Access to Knowledge). I examined MetaGer for this article and discovered the results to be good, with some great features as well:
- Every search result displays the source it came from
- Search filter selections (date, safe search, and language)
- Proxy viewing options, “open anonymously.”
For operation security and stability, MetaGer does keep some logs on their own servers (in Germany), but this data is held no longer than 96 hours and is automatically erased. MetaGer finances operations from user donations and ads that are served via partner networks, such as Bing, which appear at the top of results. If you buy a membership, however, you can get utterly ad-free search results. (Without memberships and personal donations, MetaGer states they won’t be able to continue operations.)
MetaGer runs all of its infrastructure on servers based in Germany, an excellent privacy jurisdiction with strict data protection laws. Like Searx, MetaGer is entirely open-source. For those users on the Tor network, MetaGer also hosts a .onion site. You can read more about using MetaGer and its apps, plugins, and features on their website.
2).Swisscows – Switzerland-based private search engine with zero tracking
Swisscows is a Switzerlandish private search engine that does very well with privacy and security. They promise no tracking or data collection and even have a “Swiss Fort Knox” data center for their server infrastructure.
Regarding privacy, Swisscows is one of the top selections; arguably better than many other private search engines.
In testing out Swisscows for this article, I found it to provide excellent results, primarily sourced from Bing.
Family-Friendly content – One unique side of Swisscows is that they are passionate about family-friendly content.
3).Searx – Open source metasearch engine
Searx is an open-source metasearch engine that gathers results from different search engines while also regarding user privacy. One unique feature of Searx is that you can run your instance. However, the drawback of your own instance is that your search queries will not be mixed with other users. Searx is open source and available on GitHub.
Another significant aspect of Searx is that it is very customizable. You can modify precisely what search engines Searx pulls results from in the user preferences area. You can also filter out result choices with different categories. It is all under your control.
One demerit of Searx is that it’s been getting blocked by Google because it scrapes Google results. There does not seem to be an excellent solution to this problem at this time, other than using other sources for your search results.
SearX can still fetch results from other different search engines, however.
Be careful with public instances!
This is because Searx is open source and freely available for anyone to use; there are several public instances you can use. However, like Tor nodes, anybody could set up a “rogue” instance and potentially log user activity, as Searx explains here:
4).Qwant – Private search engine based in France
Qwant is another best private search engine that is from France, and primary sources search results from Bing. The data privacy protections are much stricter compared to the United States, for instance. Qwant promises to protect user privacy (no tracking) and keep people from getting stuck in the filter bubble.
Qwant also provides good search filtering options to filter results by different categories (web, news, images, social, videos, and shopping) as well as date filters. The Qwant homepage also has news stories, trending people, events, and other interest stories. Qwant keeps growing, with over 10 million searches daily and is one of France’s most popular websites (top 50).
Overall, Qwant is a decent option for a private search engine, with so many features in place to protect user privacy.
5).DuckDuckGo – Private search engine based in the US
DuckDuckGo is based in the US and was started by Gabriel Weinberg back in 2008. It creates search results from over 400 sources, including Wikipedia, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo. DuckDuckGo has a close partnership with Yahoo, which supports it to better filter search results.
In testing out DDG for this private search guide, I found it pretty well, with relevant search terms were showing for most tests. DuckDuckGo primarily sources search results from Bing.
To fund operations, DuckDuckGo makes money through advertisements and affiliates. Similar to Google and other search engines, DuckDuckGo will display ads at the top of your searches. DuckDuckGo has partnered with Amazon and eBay as affiliates.
We also save searches, but again, not personally identifiable, as we do not store IP addresses or unique User agent strings.
Why is DuckDuckGo saving your search queries?
6).Mojeek – A true crawler-based search engine with more privacy
Unlike some of the other private (meta)search engines on this page, Mojeek is a true search engine with its own crawler. In an open Reddit discussion, Mojeek claimed to have indexed 2.3 billion pages, intending to double that by the end of the year.
For those who want to complete search independence from the corporate data monoliths of Google and Bing, Mojeek offers an interesting proposition. When I tested out various search terms, the results were occurring randomly. Mojeek staff informed me they would continue to fine-tune the search algorithm to improve results.
In terms of privacy, Mojeek does pretty well. It claims to be the “first-ever no tracking/privacy search engine” from when it first started.
7).YaCy – Decentralized, open-source, peer-to-peer search engine
YaCy is an interesting private search engine that distinguishes itself from others in that it runs on a peer-to-peer network (decentralized). It was created in 2004 by Michael Christen and is entirely open source. Here is a brief description from YaCy’s website:
It is fully decentralized, all users of the search engine network are equal, the system does not store user search requests, and no one can censor the content of the shared index. We want to achieve freedom of information through a free, distributed web search powered by the world’s users.
With YaCy, there is no central server, which could be seized or tapped by authorities. Instead, all peers in the network are equal and can be used for crawling or in “proxy mode” to index pages for other users. To use YaCy, you need to download the free software on your operating system, available for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux (but there is a demo portal here).
Conclusion -Best Private Search Engines
Browsing the web shouldn’t mean handing your private information over to third parties. Whether the result is just the annoyance of targeted ads or something far more serious like Cambridge Analytica’s tampering with US elections, surrendering your data is too high to pay for a “free” search service.
Private search engines help you keep your personal details hidden while you search, and deliver exceptional results by anonymously querying the big sites like Google and Bing. Unfortunately, even when you use the best services listed above, you are still vulnerable to tracking your activity.
Only a VPN’s end-to-end encryption and location masking can give you the freedom to browse completely anonymously.