Analysis of Million Websites: Are Google and Other Search Engines Platforms for Distributing Malware?
Attackers use the dynamic growth of the web
Maik Morgenstern, CTO AV-TEST GmbH
Although AV-TEST has been recording and constantly evaluating websites for 20 months now, this repeatedly involves only a new snapshot in time. The Internet is far too dynamic for rigid long-term statistics.
Even for an institute like AV-TEST, research is not always easy. An excellent example of this is the final interpretation of the study data on malware in search results. The study does indeed reliably indicate how many websites or links delivered by search engines have infected content or malware threats. But it cannot record how long a website with a malware threat has been on the web and how often it has been delivered.
The lab attempted to analyze what happens when you enter current search terms, evaluate the websites found and repeat this procedure after 14 days. The result: roughly 25 to 30% new websites were added to those already present. These new websites showed precisely the same percentage of infection as the initial search query. There was a new crop of websites with new malware threats.
The Internet is constantly in flux and therefore cannot be statistically recorded. What's more, research is also being made more difficult. Search engine operators, for example, demand a volume-based service fee for accessing their database via API. It is already required by Google, and it will be charged by Bing in the near future.
It is important to point out that search engine operators are not virus hunters. It is an additional job that they do not perform entirely on a voluntary basis. Because if users increasingly download infected links and malicious files as a result, they might consider using a different search engine.
Privacy-focused search engines & browsers that protect your data
Popular search engines and browsers do a great job at finding and browsing content on the web, but can do a better job at protecting your privacy while doing so.
With your data being the digital currency of our times, websites, advertisers, browsers, and search engines track your behavior on the web to deliver tailored advertising, improve their algorithms, or improve their services.
In this guide, we list the best search engines and browsers to protect your privacy while using the web.
Privacy-focused search engines
Below are the best privacy-focused search engines that do not track your searchers or display advertisements based on your cookies or interests.
The first privacy-focused search engine, and probably the most recognizable, we spotlight is DuckDuckGo.
Founded in , DuckDuckGo is popular among users who are concerned about privacy online, and the privacy-friendly search engine recently said it had seen 2 billion total searches.
With DuckDuckGo, you can search for your questions and websites online anonymously.
DuckDuckGo does not compile entire profiles of user's search habits and behavior, and it also does not collect personal information.
DuckDuckGo is offered as a search engine option in all popular browsers.
In , Brave added DuckDuckGo as a default search engine option when you use the browser on mobile or desktop. In Brave browser, your search results are powered by DuckDuckGo when you enter the private tabs (incognito).
Last year, Google also added DuckDuckGo to their list of search engines on Android and platforms. With iOS 14, Apple is now also allowing users to use DuckDuckGo as their preferred search engine.
Unlike DuckDuckGo, Startpage is not crawling the internet to generate unique results, but instead, it allows users to obtain Google Search results while protecting their data.
Startpage started as a sister company of Ixquick, which was founded in In , both websites were merged and Startpage owners received a significant investment from Privacy One Group last year.
This search engine also generates its income from advertising, but these ads are anonymously generated solely based on the search term you entered. Your information is not stored online or shared with other companies, such as Google.
Startpage also comes with one interesting feature called "Annonymous View" that allows you to view links anonymously.
When you use this feature, Startpage renders the website in its container and the website won't be able to track you because it will see Startpage as the visitor.
The next search engine in our list is Ecosia.
Unlike any other search engines, Ecosia is a CO2-neutral search engine and it uses the revenue generated to plant trees. Ecosia's search results are provided by Bing and enhanced by the company's own algorithms.
Ecosia was first launched on 7 December and the company has donated most of its profits to plant trees across the world.
Ecosia says they're a privacy-friendly search engine and your searches are encrypted, which means the data is not stored permanently and sold to third-party advertisers.
List of privacy-friendly browsers:
Web browser developers have taken existing browser platforms such as Chrome and Firefox, and modified them to include more privacy-focuses features that protect your data while browsing the web.
Brave is one of the fastest browser that is solely focused on privacy with features like private browsing, data saver, ad-free experience, bookmarks sync, tracking protections, HTTPs everywhere, and more.
Memory usage by Brave is far below Google Chrome and the browser is also available for both mobile and desktop.
You can download Brave from here.
The Tor Browser is another browser that aims to protect your data, including your IP address, as you browse the web.
When browsing the web with Tor, your connections to web sites will be anonymous as your request will be routed through other computers and your real IP address is not shared.
In addition, Tor bundles comes with the NoScript and HTTPS Everywhere extensions preinstalled, and clears your HTTP cookies on exit, to further protect your privacy.
You can download Tor browser from here.
Firefox Focus is also a great option if you use Android or iOS.
According to Mozilla, Firefox Focus blocks a wide range of online trackers, erases your history, passwords, cookies, and comes with a user-friendly interface.
Firefox Focus also comes with built-in ad blocker to improve your experience and block all trackers, including those operated by Google and Facebook.
You can download Firefox Focus from the App Store and Play Store.
How search engines disseminate information about COVID and why they should do better
Special Issue: COVID
This essay was published as part of a Special Issue on Misinformation and COVID, guest-edited by Dr. Meghan McGinty (Director of Emergency Management, NYC Health + Hospitals) and Nat Gyenes (Director, Meedan Digital Health Lab).
View more from this issue
Access to accurate and up-to-date information is essential for individual and collective decision making, especially at times of emergency. On February 26, , two weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID’s emergency a “pandemic,” we systematically collected and analyzed search results for the term “coronavirus” in three languages from six search engines. We found that different search engines prioritize specific categories of information sources, such as government-related websites or alternative media. We also observed that source ranking within the same search engine is subjected to randomization, which can result in unequal access to information among users.
Institute of Communication and Media Studies, University of Bern, Switzerland
Institute of Communication and Media Studies, University of Bern, Switzerland
Computational Social Science Department, GESIS-Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Germany
- How do search engines select and prioritize information related to COVID?
- What is the impact and consequences of the randomization on information ranking and filtering mechanisms?
- How much do the above-mentioned aspects of web search vary depending on the language of the query?
- Using multiple (N=) virtual agents (i.e., software programs), we examined how information about the coronavirus is disseminated on six search engines: Baidu, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Google, Yandex, and Yahoo. We scripted a sequence of browsing actions for each agent and then tracked these actions under controlled conditions, including time, agent location, and browser history.
- On February 26, , the agents simultaneously entered search queries based on the most common term used to refer to the COVID pandemic (i.e., “coronavirus” in English, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese) into the six search engines.
- The analysis of the search results acquired by the agents highlighted unsettling differences in the types of information sources prioritized by different engines. We also identified a considerable effect of randomization on how sources are ranked within the same search engine.
- Such discrepancies in search results can misinform the public and limit the rights of citizens to make decisions based on reliable and consistent information, which is of particular concern during an emergency, such as the COVID pandemic.
We identified large discrepancies in how different search engines disseminate information about the COVID pandemic. Some differences in the results are expected given that search engines personalize their services (Hannak et al., ), but our study highlights that even non-personalized search results differ substantially. For example, we found that some search algorithms potentially prioritize misleading sources of information, such as alternative media and social media content in the case of Yandex, while others prioritize authoritative sources (e.g., government-related pages), such as in the case of Google.
The randomization of search results among users of the same search engine is of particular concern. We found that the degree of randomization varies between the engines: for some, such as Google and Bing, it mostly affects the composition of the “long tail” of search results, such as those below the top 10 results, while others, such as DuckDuckGo and Yandex, also randomize the top 10 results. Randomization ensures that what a user sees is not necessarily what the user chooses to see, and that different users are exposed to different information. Through randomization, a user sees what the search engine randomly decided that that specific user is allowed to see. Then, in this scenario, access to reliable information is simply a matter of luck.
While randomization can encourage knowledge discovery by diversifying information acquired by individuals (Helberger, ), it can be detrimental when the society urgently needs to access consistent and accurate information – such as during a public health crisis. If we assume that a major driver of randomization is the maximization of user engagement by testing different ways of ranking search results and choosing the optimal hierarchy of information resources on a specific topic (e.g., the so-called “Google Dance” (Battelle, )), then we would be in a situation in which companies’ private interests directly interfere with the people’s rights to access accurate and verifiable information.
The exact functioning of—and justification for—randomization and different source priorities is currently unknown. Criticism of algorithmic non-transparency in information distribution is not new (Pasquale, ; Kemper & Kolkman, ; Noble, ). However, lack of transparency is particularly troublesome in times of emergency when the biases of filtering and ranking mechanisms become a matter of public health and national security. Our observations show that search engines retrieve inconsistent and sometime misleading results in relation to COVID, but it remains unclear what factors contribute to these information discrepancies and what principles each engine uses to construct hierarchies of knowledge. These issues raise multiple questions, including what is “good” information, who should decide on its quality and can these decisions be applied univocally. Most importantly: should search engines suspend randomization in times of public emergencies?
Finding answers to these questions is not easy and will require time and appropriate efforts. One starting point to improve search transparency could be to make resources for conducting “algorithmic auditing” (that is, analyses of algorithmic performance similar to the one implemented in this study) more accessible to the academic community, and the public at large (Mittelstadt, ). Currently, there is no openly available and scalable infrastructure that can be used to compare the performance of different search engine algorithms, as well as their particular features (e.g., randomization). By providing such infrastructure, and making data on the effects of algorithms on information distribution more accessible, search engine companies could address the lack of transparency in their algorithmic systems and increase trust in that information technologies play in our societies (Foroohar, ).
Another point to consider is the possibility of implementing “user control mechanisms” that can ensure that search engine users can tackle algorithmic features (e.g., randomization) interfering with their ability to receive information (He, Parra, & Verbert, ; Harambam et al., ). User-centric approaches can vary from clear policies towards source prioritization (e.g., Google’s decision to prioritize government-related sources on COVID, but applied consistently to other search subjects) to an option to opt out not only from search personalization, but also its randomization.
Finding 1: Your search engine determines what you see.
We found large discrepancies in the search results (N=~50) between identical agents using different search engines (Figure 1). Despite the use of the same search queries, all the metrics showed less than 25% similarity in search results between the engines, except DuckDuckGo and Yahoo, which shared almost 50% of their results. In many cases, we observed almost no overlap in the search results (e.g., between Google and DuckDuckGo), thus indicating that users receive completely different selections of information sources. While differences in source selection are not necessarily a negative aspect, the complete lack of common resources between the search engines can result in substantial information discrepancies among their users, which is troubling during an emergency. Furthermore, as Finding 3 shows, search engines prioritize not just different sources of the same type (e.g., various legacy media outlets) but different types of sources, which has direct implications for the quality of information that the engines provide.
The Jaccard index (JI), a metric that measures the share of common results between different agents, showed that for most engines, the source overlap occurred in the long tail of results, that is, those beyond the top 10 results. In the top 10 results, the overlap was higher only for the Yahoo-Baidu pair; the rest of the results comprised largely different sources. These observations were supported by the Ranked Biased Overlap (RBO), a metric that considers the ranking of search results. The parameter p determines how important the top results are: p gives more weight to the few top results, whereas p distributes the weight more equally between the top ~30 results. Our RBO values suggested that the ranking of the long-tail results was usually more consistent between the search engines than the ranking of the top search results.
Finding 2: The search results you receive are randomized.
We observed substantial differences in the search results received by the identical agents using the same search engine and browser (Figure 2). For some search engines, such as Yahoo and Baidu, we found substantial consistency in the composition of the general and top 10 results (as indicated by the JI values). However, as indicated by their RBO values, the ranking of these results was inconsistent. By contrast, on Google and, to a certain degree, Bing, the top 10 results were consistent, whereas the rest of the results were less congruent. Finally, in the case of agents using DuckDuckGo in Chrome, the overall selection of the results was consistent, but their rankings varied substantially.
One possible explanation for such randomization is that the search algorithms introduce a certain degree of “serendipity” into the way the results are selected to give different sources an opportunity to be seen (Cornett, ). A more pragmatic reason for randomization might be that the search engines are constantly experimenting with the results to determine which maximize user satisfaction and potentially increase profits through search advertisements. Such experimentation seems to be particularly intense in the case of unfolding and rapidly changing topics, for which there are no pre-existing knowledge hierarchies.
To test the later assumption, we ran a series of queries that were not related to the COVID pandemic but to more established news topics. When we compared the results for “coronavirus” with other searches performed by bots (e.g. “US elections”; see Appendix), we observed higher volatility in the coronavirus results, which may be due to its novelty and the absence of historical information about user preferences.
Finally, we considered whether the type of browser influences the degree of randomization. For most search engines (except DuckDuckGo, where the ranking of results was strongly randomized in Chrome), we did not observe major differences between the browsers. These observations may indicate that the choice of browser does not have a substantial influence on the selection of results. At the same time, the lack of such influence can also be attributed to the recency of the coronavirus case, which translates to a lack of historical data based on which algorithms offer a more browser-specific selection of results.
Finding 3. Search engines prioritize different types of sources.
We found that the search engines assign different priorities to specific categories of information sources in relation to the coronavirus. Our examination of the 20 most frequently occurring search results in English (Figure 3) indicated that most engines prioritized sources associated with legacy media (e.g., CNN) and healthcare organizations (including public health ones, such as WHO). However, the ratio of these sources varies substantially: for Bing, for instance, healthcare-related sources constituted almost half of the top 20 results, whereas for Google, Yandex, and Yahoo, they comprised less than one-quarter of the top results. By contrast, Yahoo prioritized recent information updates on the coronavirus from legacy media, while Google gave preference to government-related websites, such as those of city councils.
Considering their ability to spread unverified information, these differences in the knowledge hierarchies constructed by the search engines are troubling. For some of the search engines, the top search results about the pandemic included social media (e.g., Reddit) or infotainment (e.g., HowStuffWorks). Such sources are generally less reliable than official information outlets or quality media. Moreover, in the case of Yandex, the top search results included alternative media (e.g., https://coronavirusleaks.com/), in which the reliability of information is questionable.
Finding 4. The choice of language affects differences between engines.
Finally, we found that the degree of discrepancies between the search results varied depending on the language in which the queries were executed. The variation was relatively low among the agents using the same search engine, suggesting that the choice of language did not have a substantial influence on randomization (except for Google, where results in Chinese/Russian were more randomized than those in English).
We observed that language choice led to more substantial variation between the pairs of search engines (Figure 4). For several pairs, such as Bing and DuckDuckGo, we found that search results were more similar for Russian and Chinese than for English. This pattern, however, was not universal, as shown by the results for the “US elections” query (Figure A1 in the Appendix). These observations may be explained by different volumes of information in the respective languages processed by the search engines. The smaller volume of data in Russian and Chinese may increase the probability of sources overlapping. Nonetheless, these language-based discrepancies support our general claim of the lack of consistency among search engines.
We developed a distributed cloud-based research infrastructure to emulate and track the browsing behavior of multiple virtual agents. Using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), we created CentosOS virtual machines with two browsers (Firefox and Chrome) installed on each machine. In each browser (the “agent”), we installed two browser extensions: a bot and a tracker. The bot emulates browsing behavior by searching terms from a pre-defined list and then navigates through the search results. The tracker collects the HTML from each page visited by the bot and sends it to a central server, a different machine in which all data are stored.
We looked at six search engines—Baidu, Bing, Google, Yahoo, Yandex, and DuckDuckGo—and queried them for the term “coronavirus” in English, Russian, and Chinese. The choice of the first five search engines is attributed to them being the most commonly used worldwide (see Statista ), whereas DuckDuckGo was chosen because of its focus on privacy (Schofield ) that translates into it not using users’ personal data to personalize search results (Weinberg, ). We chose the word “coronavirus” as the most common term used in relation to the ongoing pandemic at the time of data collection (see Google Trends ()) and the one denoting a broad family of viruses that includes COVID In all cases, we used the fixed spelling of the term (i.e., “coronavirus” and not “corona virus”) to prevent query discrepancies from influencing the search results.
We divided all agents into six groups (n=32/33; equally distributed between Chrome and Firefox), each of which was assigned to a specific search engine. On February 26, , two weeks before WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic, each agent performed a similar browsing routine consisting of typing, clicking, and scrolling actions typical of web search navigation. The length of the routine was kept under three minutes to enable the collection of a comparable amount of data (~50 top search results). All agents were synchronized to start each query at exactly the same time (i.e., every seven minutes). In the case of a network failure, a page refresh was triggered to enable re-synchronization of the agent for the next round of queries.
After collecting the data, we used BeautifulSoup (Python) and rvest (R) to extract search result URLs from HTML for a given query and to filter nonrelevant URLs (e.g., digital ads). While we acknowledge that nonrelevant URLs can also influence the way that users perceive information about the coronavirus, we decided to remove them because of our interest in the default mechanisms for search filtering and ranking.
We then conducted search results between each pair of two agents (*/2 = pairs) using two similarity metrics: JI and RBO. JI measures the overlap between two sets of results and can be defined as a share of the identical results in both sets among all the unique results. It is frequently used to audit search algorithms (Hannak et al., ; Kliman-Silver et al., ; Puschmann, ). The value of JI varies between 0 and 1, with 1 indicating that the compared sets are % identical and 0 that they are completely different. We calculated two JIs for each pair of agents: one measuring the overlap between the full sets of search results from each agent and one measuring the overlap for the top 10 results.
JI usefully assesses how many URLs are repeated within the search results acquired by the agents, but it does not account for the order of these URLs. However, source ranking is crucial for auditing search algorithms: the composition of two sets of results can be identical (hence, JI = 1), but the order of these results can be different, leading to incompatible user experiences. Discrepancies in ranking are particularly important because users rarely scroll below the top few results (Cutrell & Guan, ; González-Caro & Marcos, ).
To account for differences in search result ranking, we used RBO, a metric designed explicitly for investigating similarities in the output of search engines (Webber et al., ; Cardoso & Magalhães, ; Robertson et al., ). Unlike JI, RBO weighs top search results more than lower ones to take into account that a source’s ranking influences the probability of the user seeing it (Cutrell & Guan, ). Similar to JI, an RBO value of 1 indicates that the composition of results and their rankings are % identical, whereas an RBO value of 0 indicates that both the results and their rankings are completely different.
For RBO, the exact weight of the results’ positioning is determined by the parameter p. The value of the parameter is decided by the researcher and can be any number within a 0 < p < 1 range. The lower the value of p, the more weight is placed on the top results. We ran our analysis with two different values of p: and The former value enables a more systemic analysis of the ranking differences between the two agents, whereas the latter focuses on the variation between the top results (Webber et al., , p. 24).
After calculating similarity metrics, we examined the types of information source prioritized by the search engines. Using an inductive coding approach, we examined the 20 most common URLs among search results in English for each of the six engines and coded each URL according to the category of information source to which it belonged. We identified 10 types of information source: 1) alternative media: non-mainstream and niche sources, such as anonymous blogs; 2) commerce: business-related sources and online shops; 3) government: sources associated with local and national government agencies; 4) healthcare: sources associated with healthcare organizations, such as medical clinics and public health institutions; 5) infotainment: sources providing a mix of news and entertainment, such as HowStuffWorks; 6) legacy media: sources related to mainstream media organizations, such as CNN; 7) non-government organization (NGO): sources attributed to mainstream non-government organizations; 8) reference work: online reference sources, such as Wikipedia; 9) social media: social media platforms, such as Reddit; 10) think tank: sources related to research institutions. The coding was conducted by the two authors, who consensus-coded disagreements between them.
A methodological appendix is available in the PDF version of this article.
Cite this Essay
Makhortykh, M., Urman, A., & Ulloa, R. (). How search engines disseminate information about COVID and why they should do better. Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review. https://doi.org//mr
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Cutrell, E., & Guan, Z. (). What are you looking for? An eye-tracking study of information usage in web search. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems—CHI ‘07 (pp. –). ACM Press.
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Kliman-Silver, C., Hannak, A., Lazer, D., Wilson, C., & Mislove, A. (). Location, location, location: The impact of geolocation on web search personalization. In Proceedings of the internet measurement conference (pp. –). ACM Press.
Mittelstadt, B. (). Automation, algorithms, and politics: Auditing for transparency in content personalization systems. International Journal of Communication, – Pasquale, F. (). The black box society. Harvard University Press.
Noble, S. U. (). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism. NYU Press.
Puschmann, C. (). Beyond the bubble: Assessing the diversity of political search results. Digital Journalism, 7(6), –
Robertson, R. E., Jiang, S., Joseph, K., Friedland, L., Lazer, D., & Wilson, C. (). Auditing partisan audience bias within Google Search. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 2(CSCW): 1–
Schofield, J. (, December 12). Can DuckDuckGo replace Google search while offering better privacy? The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/askjack//dec/12/duckduckgo-google-search-engine-privacy
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Weinberg, G. (). Privacy. DuckDuckGo https://duckduckgo.com/privacy
The research was conducted as part of the research project “Reciprocal relations between populist radical-right attitudes and political information behavior: A longitudinal study of attitude development in high-choice information environments,” funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (project number ) and Swiss National Science Foundation (project number ).
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The data for the project were obtained from publicly available sources and thus were exempt from IRB review.
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that the original author and source are properly credited.
We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and journal editors for their very helpful feedback on our manuscript, and student assistant of the Institute of Communication and Media Studies (University of Bern), Madleina Ganzeboom, for the valuable assistance during data collection.
Data security and privacy are very vital for any business owner and even individuals. You can use private browsing with the help of the incognito modes in Chrome or Firefox. However, it does not offer the level of privacy you think you will get.
You should opt for a private search engine. Following is a curated list of Top 12 handpicked NO Tracking Private Search Engines with popular features and latest links.
DuckDuckGo is one of the most well-known secure search engine. It is a useful metasearch tool which gathers results from over sources, including Yahoo, Bing, and Wikipedia.
- DuckDuckGo doesnt save your search histories
- You can save your settings in the cloud.
- Extracting information with fewer clicks
- Allows you to limit your search by region
Searx is free software where the code is % open source so everyone can contribute to making it better. It is a metasearch engine, which means that it gathers results from popular search engines and combines them.
- Searx removes every identifying data from your request so that Google, Yahoo, and other search engines receive the search phrase as an anonymous request.
- It runs on open-source software, and its code is available on Github.
- It doesnt store any data about your search and never shares anything with a third party.
3) Disconnect Search
Disconnect Search is another useful private search engine tool which uses content search assistance from major search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
- Allows you to gets your results from other search engines
- This search engine never tracks your online searches or activities or IP address.
- Allows you to submits your query anonymously.
- Displays results in the same style of the search engine they come from.
MetaGer helps you to convert your search request into an anonymous query which can transmit to major search engines.
- Allows you to convert your search request into an anonymous query
- It is a private search engine that integrates with a proxy server which hides your IP address.
- MetaGer is supported by user contributions.
Qwant is an alternative search engine that supplements their search results with results from Bing. It was started in with security and privacy in mind and which doesnt track your data.
- No personal information is shared with third-parties
- Lets you filter the results by various categories news, social, images, videos, music, or boards.
- Ads are generated with the help of Microsoft Bing ad network.
- Offers Qwant junior search engine for children
6) Search Encrypt:
The Search Encrypt helps you to encrypt search terms between your computer and searchencrypt.com.This safe search engine tool is supported by sponsored ads featured on the search results page.
- Helps you to intercept & redirect easily
- Based on your query, the results can be aggregated, encrypted, and sent back to you.
- Offers advanced Security & Encryption option
It is a private search engine that provides anonymous and uncensored search engine technology. It is an ideal option for those who cannot or dont want to pay for VPN servers.
- Your search data is not saved on servers
- Gibiru allows you to identify suppressed and censored sites and promotes them to the top.
Swisscows which is previously known as Hulbee. It is also one of the widely popular search engines among parents who want child-appropriate search results for their kids.
- It offers a built-in filter for stopping violent content in the search engine.
- Private search which doesnt store your data
- Great importance on family-friendly internet content
Yippy is a private search engine which automatically categorizes query results. It helps you to filter the results category-wise and flag inappropriate result manually.
- Yippy helps you to search for many types of content, including web, images, news, jobs, blogs, government data, etc.
- Yippy allows you to view cached pages and filter results by tag websites, clouds, and sources.
- It does not allow to track your search queries and does not display any customized ads.
Oscobo is an anonymous search engine. This search engine never stores and track user data in any way. It does not allow any third-party track or misuse of users data.
- Allows you to search for any information, videos, images, news
- It provides a Chrome extension for doing searches.
- It does not allow to hack your history or any personal information so that nobody cant misuse it.
Ecosia is a CO2-neutral private search engine. The uniqueness of this single search made is that this social business uses the revenue generated for tree-planting.
- It allows you to search the web with Ecosia.
- Ecosia generates income from search ads.
- Ecosia is available for desktop computer or laptop, and mobile via using iOS and Android apps.
Search engines virus 100
searchengines.com Removal Tips (Uninstall searchengines.com)
searchengines.com is a website that belongs to Advanced Search Technologies, Inc. and is powered by Thunderstone Software. It is classified as a browser hijacker and promoted as a search tool that can provide you with different search engines from one place. The hijacker can change preferences in all of your browsers, because it is compatible with all major browsers including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, and others.
You may think that the so-called search tool can be trusted at first, but soon you will start noticing its symptoms like various advertisements appearing on your visited pages, redirects to unknown websites, and more. We suggest that you delete searchengines.com and use a more reliable search provider instead.
How does searchengines.com work?
The hijacker sets searchengines.com as your home page and default search provider. This page contains multiple features. It has a search box that allows you to search for information using such parameters as All the Internet, Amazon, Bing, eBay, Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo, YouTube, and others. As far as we can tell, all of these parameters actually work. The webpage also contains a variety of quick access links that are divided into such categories as Popular Internet Sites, Check Your Email, Todays News, Games, Entertainment, Travel, Directions, and more.
In addition to modifying your browser settings, the hijacker is also capable of causing other disruptions. It can insert advertisements into your browsers and redirect you to its sponsored sites. These activities will noticeably slow down your online surfing speed. The hijacker may also affect your computer performance. You should also know that it uses tracking cookies in order to collect information about your Internet browsing habits. This data can be sold to third parties or used for marketing purposes. If you want to eliminate all of these symptoms from your web browsers, you should delete searchengines.com as soon as possible.
How to remove searchengines.com?
If you want to go back to your original search tools and eliminate searchengines.com, you will have to choose one of the two following removal options: manual or automatic. In order to terminate searchengines.com manually, you will have to uninstall its related program and then fix your browser settings. In case you need more detailed instructions on how to complete these tasks, you should follow the manual searchengines.com removal guide presented below the article. Alternatively, you can make use of the anti-malware tool provided on our site and clean your computer. The malware prevention and removal utility will perform a full system scan, detect, and remove searchengines.com along with other potential threats. Moreover, it will also safeguard your PC from other online parasites you may encounter in the future.
Download Removal Toolto scan for searchengines.comUse our recommended removal tool to scan for searchengines.com. Trial version of WiperSoft provides detection of computer threats like searchengines.com and assists in its removal for FREE. You can delete detected registry entries, files and processes yourself or purchase a full version.
Step 1. Uninstall searchengines.com and related programs.
Remove searchengines.com from Windows 8
Right-click in the lower left corner of the screen. Once Quick Access Menu shows up, select Control Panel choose Programs and Features and select to Uninstall a software.
Uninstall searchengines.com from Windows 7
Click Start → Control Panel → Programs and Features → Uninstall a program.
Delete searchengines.com from Windows XP
Click Start → Settings → Control Panel. Locate and click → Add or Remove Programs.
Remove searchengines.com from Mac OS X
Click Go button at the top left of the screen and select Applications. Select applications folder and look for searchengines.com or any other suspicious software. Now right click on every of such entries and select Move to Trash, then right click the Trash icon and select Empty Trash.
Step 2. Delete searchengines.com from your browsers
Terminate the unwanted extensions from Internet Explorer
- Tap the Gear icon and go to Manage Add-ons.
- Pick Toolbars and Extensions and eliminate all suspicious entries (other than Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Oracle or Adobe)
- Leave the window.
Change Internet Explorer homepage if it was changed by virus:
- Tap the gear icon (menu) on the top right corner of your browser and click Internet Options.
- In General Tab remove malicious URL and enter preferable domain name. Press Apply to save changes.
Reset your browser
- Click the Gear icon and move to Internet Options.
- Open the Advanced tab and press Reset.
- Choose Delete personal settings and pick Reset one more time.
- Tap Close and leave your browser.
- If you were unable to reset your browsers, employ a reputable anti-malware and scan your entire computer with it.
Erase searchengines.com from Google Chrome
- Access menu (top right corner of the window) and pick Settings.
- Choose Extensions.
- Eliminate the suspicious extensions from the list by clicking the Trash bin next to them.
- If you are unsure which extensions to remove, you can disable them temporarily.
Reset Google Chrome homepage and default search engine if it was hijacker by virus
- Press on menu icon and click Settings.
- Look for the “Open a specific page” or “Set Pages” under “On start up” option and click on Set pages.
- In another window remove malicious search sites and enter the one that you want to use as your homepage.
- Under the Search section choose Manage Search engines. When in Search Engines, remove malicious search websites. You should leave only Google or your preferred search name.
Reset your browser
- If the browser still does not work the way you prefer, you can reset its settings.
- Open menu and navigate to Settings.
- Press Reset button at the end of the page.
- Tap Reset button one more time in the confirmation box.
- If you cannot reset the settings, purchase a legitimate anti-malware and scan your PC.
Remove searchengines.com from Mozilla Firefox
- In the top right corner of the screen, press menu and choose Add-ons (or tap Ctrl+Shift+A simultaneously).
- Move to Extensions and Add-ons list and uninstall all suspicious and unknown entries.
Change Mozilla Firefox homepage if it was changed by virus:
- Tap on the menu (top right corner), choose Options.
- On General tab delete malicious URL and enter preferable website or click Restore to default.
- Press OK to save these changes.
Reset your browser
- Open the menu and tap Help button.
- Select Troubleshooting Information.
- Press Refresh Firefox.
- In the confirmation box, click Refresh Firefox once more.
- If you are unable to reset Mozilla Firefox, scan your entire computer with a trustworthy anti-malware.
Uninstall searchengines.com from Safari (Mac OS X)
- Access the menu.
- Pick Preferences.
- Go to the Extensions Tab.
- Tap the Uninstall button next to the undesirable searchengines.com and get rid of all the other unknown entries as well. If you are unsure whether the extension is reliable or not, simply uncheck the Enable box in order to disable it temporarily.
- Restart Safari.
Reset your browser
- Tap the menu icon and choose Reset Safari.
- Pick the options which you want to reset (often all of them are preselected) and press Reset.
- If you cannot reset the browser, scan your whole PC with an authentic malware removal software.
2-remove-virus.com is not sponsored, owned, affiliated, or linked to malware developers or distributors that are referenced in this article. The article does not promote or endorse any type of malware. We aim at providing useful information that will help computer users to detect and eliminate the unwanted malicious programs from their computers. This can be done manually by following the instructions presented in the article or automatically by implementing the suggested anti-malware tools.
The article is only meant to be used for educational purposes. If you follow the instructions given in the article, you agree to be contracted by the disclaimer. We do not guarantee that the artcile will present you with a solution that removes the malign threats completely. Malware changes constantly, which is why, in some cases, it may be difficult to clean the computer fully by using only the manual removal instructions.
Why use one, when you can have
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Private Search Engines
This guide aims to be the most in-depth resource available on private search engines. For this update, weve examined the best private search engines, discussed how to keep your data safe when searching, and flagged some search engines we think you should avoid.
In todays world, search engines are a necessity to find what youre looking for. But the help search engines provide often comes at a price: your privacy.
It is sad to say, but most of the big search engines today serve as data collection tools for advertising companies. They collect your private data and use it to make money with targeted ads. This is a booming industry where your data ends up in the hands of third parties and you are the product.
Here is the information being collected by some of the larger (not private) search engines:
- Source IP address
- User agent
- Unique identifier (stored in browser cookies)
- Search queries
As you may know, the items you enter into a search engine can disclose highly personal information about you. Things like as medical conditions, employment status, financial information, political beliefs, and other private details. This data can be collected, stored, and linked to detailed digital profiles which can even contain your real identity. The only way to ensure that your data is safe is to keep it out of the hands of the data collectors. To do that, you need to use a private search engine.
In this latest iteration of our guide to the best private search engines, we do another deep dive into the world of private search engines, while also covering some FAQs and best practices for keeping your data safe and private. Heres an overview of what well cover:
- Best private search engines for
- Private search engines with ad-tech owners
- How do private search engines make money?
- Are US-based search engines safe?
- How to keep your searches private
- Considerations when choosing a private search engine
All recommendations in this guide are my own opinions based on extensive testing and research.
The best private search engines
Finding the best private search engine for your needs is a subjective process. Your circumstances and goals are unique, meaning theres no one-size-fits-all. Things to consider include:
- Where is the service based?
- Where does it get its search results?
- Can you run your own instance?
- Are there mobile apps?
In a perfect world, a search engine would give you great results while also respecting your privacy. Unfortunately, this isnt a perfect world. Any of the private search engines in this guide could be the best solution for you. But you will need to test drive the ones that look the best to you to see which is really the best fit. Before we start, there is one issue you need to be aware of:
Metasearch vs search: Most private search engines are technically metasearch engines. While a search engine crawls the internet and gathers its own results, a metasearch engine pulls its search results from search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yandex.
In this review, the one exception is Mojeek, which is a true crawler-based search engine with its own index (discussed below). There are also a few search engines that fall in the middle by deploying their own crawler, but also pulling results from other search engines.
Note: This list is not necessarily in rank order. Choose the best search engine for you based on your own threat model and unique needs.
Here are the best private search engines:
1. Swisscows A Switzerland-based private search engine with zero tracking
Swisscows is a Switzerland-based 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. From their website:
- have our own servers and do not work with cloud or third party!
- have our Datacenter in the Swiss Alps THIS is the safest bunker in Europe!
- have positioned everything geographically outside of EU and US.
Family-Friendly content One unique aspect of Swisscows is that they are passionate about family-friendly content. As they explain on their about page:
- We promote moral values.
- We hate violence and pornography.
- We promote digital media education.
While some people may not like the fact that Swisscows filters some adult content, others may see this as a great feature, especially those with children.
Because Swisscows does not pass on user data from search requests, they are unable to effectively monetize their service through ad partners, which means they largely rely on donations and sponsorships to maintain operations (sponsors can get a banner ad at the top of results):
2. MetaGer An open source metasearch engine with great features
MetaGer is an open source metasearch engine based in Germany. It gets search results from Bing, Yandex, Yahoo and others, as well as having its own web crawler. This interesting project started in It is now operated by a non-profit foundation in Germany called SUMA-EV (Association for Free Access to Knowledge). I tested MetaGer for this guide and found the results to be good, with some nice features as well:
- Every search result shows the source it came from
- Search filter options (date, safe search, and language)
- Proxy viewing options open anonymously
- A new News/Politics results type
MetaGer does a good job of protecting your privacy, as they explain here. MetaGer converts search requests into anonymous queries through a proxy server, which also provides the open anonymously viewing option with all results. The service truncates your IP addresses to protect your privacy, although they do pass along user agent info to their search partners. MetaGer does not utilize cookies or any other tracking methods.
For operation stability and security, MetaGer does keep some logs on their own servers, but this data is kept no longer than 96 hours and is automatically erased. MetaGer finances operations from user donations, as well as ads that are served through partner networks, such as Bing. These ads appear at the top of the search results. However, you can get completely ad-free search results by signing up for an MetaGer membership. (Without memberships and personal donations, MetaGer states they would not be able to continue operations.)
MetaGer runs all of its infrastructure on servers in Germany, which is a good privacy jurisdiction with strict data protection laws. The service is completely open source. For those on the Tor network, MetaGer also hosts a .onion site.
You can read more about using MetaGer, as well as their apps, plugins, and features, on their website. Well close here with an interesting quote I found on their site (translated from German):
Did you know that according to the Patriot Act, all internet servers and search engines physically located in the jurisdiction of the United States are obligated to disclose any information to the intelligence services? Your personal data is at risk even if the servers and search engines don’t store any information: it is sufficient if the intelligence agencies read and store everything at the internet point of connection. All MetaGer servers are located in Germany.
Mobile apps: Android
3. Searx An open source metasearch engine
Searx is an open source metasearch engine that gathers results from other search engines while simultaneously respecting your privacy. Even better, you control which search engines Searx pulls results from, as well as specifying the categories for search results.
Searx customizability comes in handy since Google has been known to block Searx requests. We havent seen a good solution to the problem, but you can avoid these kinds of problems by telling Searx to avoid Google (or any other source that causes problems).
Searx also allows you to run your own instance of the search engine. The drawback with your own instance, however, is that your search results wont be mixed with other users. Searx is open source and available on GitHub.
Be careful if you use public instances!
Because Searx is open source and freely available for anyone to use, there are a number of different public instances you can utilize. However, just like with Tor nodes, anyone with bad intentions can set up a rogue instance and potentially log user activity, as Searx explains here:
What are the consequences of using public instances?
If someone uses a public instance, he/she has to trust the administrator of that instance. This means that the user of the public instance does not know whether his/her requests are logged, aggregated and sent or sold to a third party.
Unfortunately the Searx project doesnt run an official public instance. They do recommend public instances run by various individuals or entities. But how do you know those instances arent logging your search results on their server? You dont! For all we know a public instance might secretly run by the CIA, other domestic or foreign intel agencies, or just some creeps looking to steal your data. The only way to be sure is to run your own instance.
Jurisdiction: Not applicable (open source, not based in any one location)
Mobile apps: None
https://www.searx.me (gives info about the project and list of instances)
4. Qwant A private search engine from France
Qwant is a private search engine based in France. Being based in Europe, it is held to data privacy protections that are much stricter than those in the United States and many other countries. Qwant promises to protect user privacy (no tracking) and keep people from getting stuck in the filter bubble.This is all good since Qwant primarily gets its search results from Microsofts Bing search engine.
Qwant is committed to protecting your privacy, and that’s at the heart of our philosophy. What you do with Qwant is your privacy and we don’t want to know about it. We don’t keep your search history and we don’t create an advertising profile to target you. With Qwant, you are of course entitled to the rights guaranteed by the European General Data Protection Regulation of April 27, , known as the “GDPR”, but most importantly, we ensure maximum respect for the principles of data minimization and “privacy by design”, i.e., we implement design methods for our services that allow us to collect and process only the data that is strictly necessary. We never try to find out who you are or what you do personally when you use our search engine.
However, when Qwant does not have the answers to your queries, they will pass along pseudonymous data to Microsoft Ireland Operations Limited. Microsoft provides search results, along with contextual advertising based on the keywords you entered and your geographic region.
While the GDPR should protect your data from abuse by Microsoft, if you dont want Microsoft to know what you are searching for online, you need to be aware that Qwant may share that information with Microsoft under certain circumstances.
Putting that aside, Qwant has good search filtering options. You can filter results by different categories (web, news, social, images, videos, and shopping) as well as by dates. The Qwant homepage includes news stories, trending people, events, and other interest stories. According to their website, Qwant serves million results per month.
Overall, Qwant is a good option for a private search engine, with many features in place to protect user privacy.
Mobile apps: Android, iOS
5. DuckDuckGo Popular private search engine based in the US
DuckDuckGo (a.k.a. DDG) is perhaps the most popular private search engine.Its popularity has grown greatly since our last review. For many people, the first thing to do when installing a new web browser is to set its default search engine to DuckDuckGo.
Based in the United States (not the ideal location from a privacy perspective), DDG was started by Gabriel Weinberg in It generates search results from over sources including Wikipedia, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo. DuckDuckGo has a close partnership with Yahoo (now owned by Verizon), which helps it to better filter search results.
In my testing I found DDG to work well, with relevant search results quickly displayed for most tests. Search results for DuckDuckGo are primarily sourced from Bing.
To finance operations, DuckDuckGo generates money through advertisements and affiliate programs, which is explained here. Similar to Google and other search engines, DuckDuckGo will display ads at the top of your searches. DDG has partnered with Amazon and eBay as affiliates.
We also save searches, but again, not in a personally identifiable way, as we do not store IP addresses or unique User agent strings. We use aggregate, non-personal search data to improve things like misspellings.
While it would be great if DDG didnt save any search information, saving this data without IP addresses or unique User agent strings should protect your privacy just fine.
The history of DuckDuckGo search
In researching the background DuckDuckGo, I uncovered some interesting history. The founder of DDG, Gabriel Weinberg, was also behind a social network called Names Database, which collected the real names and addresses of its users. He then sold Names Database (and all the user data) to Classmates.com for approximately $10 million in cash in March
DuckDuckGo was launched a few years later, in and was branded as a privacy search engine. It rose to popularity in following the Snowden revelations. DuckDuckGo remains one of the most popular private search engines to date and is well-regarded in the privacy community. Even if Mr. Weinberg were to sell DDG some day, assuming the company continued to follow existing policies on recording search data, there should be nothing to worry about.
Jurisdiction: United States
Mobile apps: Android, iOS
6. Mojeek Crawler-based search engine with more privacy
Unlike some of the other private (meta)search engines, Mojeek is true search engine with its own crawler. According to the Mojeek blog, the service surpassed 4 billion pages indexed in June If you want complete search independence from the corporate data monoliths of Google and Bing, Mojeek offers an interesting proposition.
Mojeek doesnt implement any kind of specific user tracking, whether that be at the time of visit or subsequently via standard logs, which Mojeek does keep. These logs contain the time of visit, page requested, possibly referral data, and located in a separate log browser information. IP addresses are not recorded, instead the IP address is replaced with a simple two letter code indicating the visitors country of origin. By doing this, Mojeek removes any possibility of tracking or identifying any particular user.
Hopefully Mojeek can continue to improve their search results and one day rival the big players.
Jurisdiction: United Kingdom
Mobile apps: Android, iOS
7. YaCy The decentralized, open source, peer-to-peer search engine
YaCy is an open source private search engine created in by Michael Christen. It can run stand-alone or as part of a decentralized peer-to-peer network. Here is a brief description from YaCys website:
It is fully decentralized, all users of the search engine network are equal, the network does not store user search requests and it is not possible for anyone to censor the content of the shared index. We want to achieve freedom of information through a free, distributed web search which is powered by the worlds users.
With YaCy, there is no central server, which could be seized or tapped by authorities. Rather, all peers in the network are equal and can be used for crawling the web 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. There is a demo portal here but it was down when we were doing this update.
Jurisdiction: Not applicable. (Being a decentralized and open-source platform, YaCy does not appear to fall under any particular jurisdiction, similar to Searx.)
Mobile apps: None
8. Brave Search A new search engine from the makers of Brave browser
Although it is still in beta, Brave Search looks quite promising. It is brought to you by the makers of Brave, which is a secure browser with built-in privacy that runs on open-source Chromium. Unlike most of the other search engines in this guide, Brave is using its own search index, rather than relying on Bing or Google.
Here is a brief overview of the Brave Search project from their website:
Brave Search is the world’s most complete, independent, private search engine. By integrating Brave Search beta into its browser, Brave offers the first all-in-one browser / search alternative to the big tech platforms. Brave Search beta is also available in other browsers, at search.brave.com.
Given that Brave Search is relatively new, there is not a lot of information regarding the companys policies and practices. However, there is this FAQ page that answers some questions. We are excited to see this project develop as it appears to be a strong alternative from a well-regarded organization. Well keep an eye on it as things progress.
Jurisdiction: United States
Mobile apps: Built into Brave Browser, with apps for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, and iOS
9. Ecosia The search engine that plants trees
Ecosia is unique on our list in that it donates a portion of profits to charity and is strictly focused on planting trees. It is based in Germany and claims to be a private search engine. However, some of the things it does make it unsuitable for our main list of truly private search engines.
One issue is that Ecosia collects all search queries and then anonymizes this data after seven days. Another is that they do a fair amount of data collecting through website analytics, including your IP address, browser agent, location, and more.
And one more thing
Ecosia assigns a Bing tracking ID to every user:
Ecosia also assigns a “Bing Client ID” in order to improve the quality of the search results. This value is a user-specific ID which enables Bing to deliver more relevant search results also based on previous searches. The ID is saved in the Ecosia cookie and retrieved during future visits.
Does Ecosia meet the criteria to be a private search engine? Probably not, but its still a good alternative to the big search engines, with commendable charity goals.
- Not a private search engine by default
- Bing ID is assigned to users (but can be disabled)
- Search queries, with IP address, are saved for seven days
Mobile apps: Android, iOS
These search engines have ad-tech owners
Now lets look at a few search engines that are at least partially owned by advertising companies.
Why is this important to understand?
Because the business model of advertising companies is to collect as much private data as possible. A private search engine could be a massive data collection tool in the wrong hands.
Can an ad-tech company be trusted to guard your personal data while running a private search engine?
Can a fox be trusted to guard a hen house?
Proceed with caution.
1. Search Encrypt A search engine with some big red flags
Search Encrypt is another interesting search engine that claims to offer better privacy by default than DuckDuckGo. Like DuckDuckGo, Search Encrypt uses Bing for search results. Search Encrypt describes the following features on its website:
- Expiring browsing history: Encryption keys for your searches expire when you are done searching.
- End-to-end encryption: Searches are end-to-end encrypted using AES and HTTPS/SSL encryption.
- Privacy-friendly maps search
- Privacy-friendly video search
Search Encrypt does not track search history in any user identifiable way.
Additionally, we store aggregated search data to improve product performance, but never store IP addresses or unique user identifiers in connection with such searches in order to ensure that none of the information collected in connection with your search activity is personally identifiable.
This is a pretty convoluted statement. Here are a few takeaways:
- Aggregated search data is being logged and stored.
- They claim to not store IP addresses in connection with such searches but this does not mean that IP addresses are not getting logged and/or passed on to third parties. Rather, they are merely stating that IP addresses will not be associated with searches. Therefore it appears that IP addresses might be getting logged (another reason to use a VPN).
In circumstances where you have chosen to alter the default settings, then your personally identifiable information may be shared with third party site operators.
Lastly, it also appears that Search Encrypt may be operating out of the United States. From their Terms page:
Choice of Law and Venue.
This Agreement shall be interpreted and enforced in all respects under the laws of the State of Florida, United States as applicable to contracts to be performed entirely within Florida.
Whos running the show?
Another question with Search Encrypt is that there isnt much information about the company. The contact page shows an address in Cyprus and the legal venue is Florida (United States). The developer for the Search Encrypt Firefox extension (no longer listed) is SearchIncognito with a history of other private search extensions:
How does Search Encrypt make money?
Like some other private search engines, Search Encrypt makes money through affiliates, as they explain here:
In some circumstances, we may append an affiliate code to certain sites linked to our Search Encrypt product, either directly or through search results delivered to you. In doing so, we may collect a small commission in connection with your activity, but do not pass any of your personally identifiable information to any such third party sites.
This of course could be quite profitable with the right deals and enough users. DuckDuckGo also utilizes affiliates with Amazon and eBay for revenue, in addition to advertisements. (Well explain more about how private search engines make money below.)
I reached out to Search Encrypt asking for additional clarification on their data collection and user privacy policies. My emails were not answered.
- IP address and other data may be collected
- Data may be shared with third parties if you modify default settings
- Runs on Amazon servers in the US
- Non-transparent company
Jurisdiction: Contact address is in Cyprus, legal venue is in the United States (owners in China? below)
Update: My suspicions proved to be warranted. An article on Medium has revealed that Search Encrypt is basically a Chinese data collection tool for advertising companies.
How a Chinese Company Built a $ Million Search Hijacking Empire
2. GhostPeek A clone of Search Encrypt?
It appears that a carbon copy of Search Encrypt has been unveiled, which they are calling Ghost Peek and claim to be another private search engine.
Someone on reddit did some digging and found the same pattern and ties to China that we saw above with Search Encrypt
Ghostpeek, the supposedly “private” search engine, is run by a sketchy shell corporation, which in turn is owned by a personal and mobile data aggregator based in China
3. Startpage Acquired by a US ad-tech company in
Startpage was previously one of my top recommendations for private search engines. However, news surfaced in October that Startpage was at least partially acquired by System1 and the Privacy One Group. As described in my article on Startpage and System1, there are some remaining concerns:
- The fact that System1 has acquired a large stake in Startpage.
- The history and business model of System1, which includes gathering as much data as possible and profiling users.
- The board of directors change at Surfboard Holding BV (parent company of Startpage), to appoint the System1 co-founder and an outside investor.
- The long delay in alerting the public to these changes.
- The contradictory business models of System1 and a private search engine.
Choosing the best private search engine is largely about trust, and only you can decide who to trust. But given the history of System1, I would be very cautious.
Jurisdiction: Netherlands (officially, but at least partially owned by a US company)
Private search engine FAQs
Here are some FAQs (frequently asked questions) with regards to private search engines:
- How do private search engines make money?
- Are US-based search engines safe?
- How to keep your searches private
- Considerations when choosing a private search engine
How do private search engines make money?
Private search engines make money in three ways: contextual advertisements, affiliates, and donations. Lets examine each of these revenue streams on their own.
1. Contextual advertisements
Just like with Google and Bing, many private search engines make money by placing advertisements in the search results, usually based on the search terms you entered. The difference between private search engines and Google or Bing is that private search engines should only be serving ads based on your search term, rather than from all other data collection sources (email, browsing, etc.).
Note: Some private search engines pass a truncated (anonymized) version of your IP address to the search partner, in order to serve relevant ads for your general location.
2. Affiliate revenue
Many private search engines make money through affiliate programs. DuckDuckGo is an example of this; they are a member of both the Amazon and eBay affiliate programs:
DuckDuckGo is part of the affiliate programs of the eCommerce websites Amazon and eBay. When you visit those sites through DuckDuckGo, including when using !bangs, and subsequently make a purchase, we receive a small commission.
You may also see online shopping options above your search results, which are another form of affiliate revenue. Both Qwant and DuckDuckGo use affiliate shopping results as sources of income.
Note: When you buy something through an affiliate link, it never increases the price you pay. Rather, it simply transfers a small percentage of the profits (i.e. a commission) to the affiliate, which in this case is the private search engine.
Private search engines may also make money from donations. Anybody can donate to the project, regardless of whether it is an individual developer, a non-profit organization, or a private for-profit business.
If a search engine does not have other sources of revenue or good advertising deals with partners, donations become very important to ensure continued operations. For example, Swisscows, MetaGer, and YaCy all have donation options.
Are US-based search engines safe?
Choosing a private search engine is all based on your unique needs and threat model. Therefore a private search engine that Bob considers to be safe, may not be adequate for Alice.
With regards to US-based search engines, and any other US businesses that handles (or has potential access) to private data, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- The United States has extensive surveillance programs, which are carried out by various branches of government, such as the NSA.
- The US has a long history of working with (and forcing) private tech companies to facilitate bulk data collection efforts see the PRISM program for details. (This raises questions about private search engines that are being hosted on Amazon infrastructure, a large US-based company.)
- US companies could be served National Security Letters or other lawful data collection demands, while also being prohibited from disclosing this due to gag orders.
These laws and capabilities essentially give the US government the authority to compel a legitimate privacy-focused company to function as a data collection tool for state agencies.
If a privacy-focused business were to be compromised, it would likely happen behind closed doors, without a word (or warning) to the users. This was the case with Lavabit, and rather than comply with the data requests, the founder was basically forced to shut down the business.
As a general rule, RestorePrivacy does not recommend services that are based in the US. Nonetheless, it all depends on your threat model and how much privacy and security you need.
How to keep your searches private
Here are five basic tips for keeping your searches (and data in general) more private.
1. Use a private search engine
Using one of the private search engines in this guide will help keep your data safe from third parties. See the reviews to determine which private search engine best suits your needs.
2. Use a private and secure browser
Just like with search engines, your browser can also reveal lots of private information about you to third parties:
- Browsing history: all the websites you visit
- Login credentials: usernames and passwords
- Cookies and trackers: these are placed on your browser by the sites you visit
- Autofill information: names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.
- Metadata, which can be used for tracking and identification (browser fingerprinting)
Many of the private search engines in this guide offer browser extensions to replace the default search engine for your browser. DuckDuckGo has even become listed as an alternative search engine for browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome.
See our guide on secure browsers here.
3. Use a good VPN service
If you use a good VPN service, you wont have to worry about search engines logging your IP address and location. A VPN will encrypt your traffic for safe transit across the internet, while also replacing your IP address and location with that of the VPN server youre connected to. There are many other uses for VPN services and they are an important privacy tool, especially since internet providers in many countries are now collecting browsing history.
Below are my top VPN recommendations:
4. Use a good ad blocker
A reliable ad blocker is another important privacy tool since ads have become a major threat to your privacy. Many ads now quietly collect data for third-party advertising networks. Other ads (known as malvertising), actually install malware on your computer or mobile device. The best thing to do these days is to simply block ads and tracking networks.
There are of course many other privacy tools to consider. However, a good private search engine, a secure browser, a reliable VPN, and a safe ad blocker are the top priorities for basic digital self defense.
5. Log out!
Lastly, whenever possible, stay logged out of Big Tech accounts (Gmail, YouTube, Amazon, etc.) when surfing the web, since their trackers will record your browsing activity and link this to your data profile.
Another option is to use one browser for staying logged into various accounts, but then use a separate browser for general browsing activity (this is known as browser compartmentalization).
Considerations when choosing a private search engine
Here are some things to consider when looking for the best search engine for privacy:
- Search results Some search engines may do well in the privacy category, but they dont return very good results.
- Privacy Consider what information the search engine is logging, as well as the data that may be passed off to third parties and search partners (such as Bing).
- Jurisdiction Jurisdiction is an important factor to consider because it ultimately affects your data and privacy. Services based in the US, for example, are subject to the Patriot Act, National Security Letters, and may also be forced to collect user data without being allowed to disclose anything (due to gag orders).
- Features Some private search engines offer useful features, such as anonymous viewing (via proxy servers), search result filtering options, plugins, extensions, and more.
- Mobile apps More than a year ago, Google reported that they process more search requests from mobile devices than they do from desktops. We live on our mobile devices, so a search engine that offers a mobile app for your specific device could be a big benefit.
- Trust Trust is difficult to quantify and measure, but its a very important consideration. When considering the trust factor, you may want to look at the history of the company and the individuals behind it.
Finding the best search engine for your needs is a subjective process, and theres no single best private search engine that applies to everyone. Check out our reviews, the test drive a few different options to find the best fit for you.
This private search engines guide was last updated on August 31,