With a market share of more than 70%, Google is the most used search engine in the world. It’s so popular that its name has been added to dictionaries as a verb for when people search for something online – google it if you want to. That being said, Google pushes the notion of ‘when it’s free, you’re the product’ to the extreme.
Since it has developed and acquired several successful products throughout the years – such as Gmail, Chrome, and YouTube – the company has been able to gather a massive amount of data about its users. This information is then used to place targeted advertisements, which take into account all your online activity. For instance, if you send a private email to a friend talking about buying a couch, it’s likely that you’ll start to see ads for a comfortable new couch on your Google feed. This is quite alarming, especially when Google has shown several times that it will monitor your information without you realizing it. Fortunately, people are starting to understand that online privacy matters and one of the first things you need to do to protect your personal information is to use a private search engine.
Recommended Privacy-Friendly Search Engines
Since DuckDuckGo doesn’t track its users, it’s impossible to know for sure how many people take advantage of this private search engine. Even so, based on the number of searches recorded each month, the company is able to make an educated guess of having a user base of approximately 50 million people. This makes DuckDuckGo the most popular private search engine on the market, and it’s easy to understand why. DuckDuckGo doesn’t store any user information, blocks third-party trackers, comes with a wide arsenal of tools, and is available on mobile. You can use DuckDuckGo for free, as the search engine makes money via generic ads that only consider your search term and not your browsing history.
There’s no question that Google offers the best search engine on the market, providing fast and accurate results to your queries. Even when you type something that doesn’t make complete sense, Google still understands and provides you with the results you were looking for. Startpage aims to offer similar results, and that’s why it pays Google to use its algorithm. The big difference is that the company strips out all the tracking and targeted advertising that comes with it. In other words, Startpage doesn’t record either IP addresses or search queries and it doesn’t come with tracking or identifying cookies. Although the search engine uses ads to remain free, they’re generic ones that don’t rely on your search activity.
Ecosia is another popular choice among privacy advocates. The search engine doesn’t sell data to advertising companies, and it anonymizes all searches within one week – making it impossible for the company to create personal profiles based on your search history. Still, Ecosia stores some user data to improve its services, but it does so with a securely encrypted connection to protect you from potential eavesdroppers. You can also opt out of this tracking by enabling ‘Do Not Track’ in your browser’s settings. What makes Ecosia stand out though is its tree planting project, where the company donates 80% of its profits to nonprofit organizations that plant trees all over the world. So far, the company has planted over 120 million trees with the money made from donations, non-targeting ads, and merch.
Even though Search Encrypt has been labeled as a virus by some, this search engine actually aims to protect your searches from being tracked. You can use the company’s search engine by going to the Search Encrypt website, but it’s more common to install its browser extensions. When you search through Google or Bing, the add-on redirects you to Search Encrypt’s page, which encrypts your search terms locally. In other words, no one is able to find out what you’re searching for, regardless of whether it’s a big company like Google, hackers, the government, or your ISP.
Changing Your Search Engine Isn’t Enough
It’s essential that you take careful steps to make your online activity private. You wouldn’t invite companies to come to your house to see your daily life, so why should you let them know what you’re doing online? Changing to a private search engine is a great first step, but there are other factors you need to consider.
For instance, imagine that you use one of the recommended private search engines, but stick with Google Chrome as your go-to browser. Like the search engine, Chrome will spy on your online activity to display personalized ads. That’s why it’s essential you also use a secure browser, such as Brave or Waterfox.
The same can be said about email services, as Google’s AI scans your private emails to send personalized ads. In this case, we recommend going with an end-to-end encrypted email client like ProtonMail, as it will also protect your messages from being intercepted.
Finally, even after you ditch the services that track you for advertisement purposes, you should consider getting a VPN, as this software protects your online activity from eavesdroppers. For example, even if you’re using a secure browser, your connection can still be compromised due to an unsafe open Wi-Fi network, but using a VPN will keep you protected.