Best Search Engines for your Privacy

David Fischer
Best Search Engines for your Privacy

You don't have to use a search engine like Google which retains your queries forever to get great results anymore. Last month, we did a privacy teardown of some large search engines as well as the more privacy minded ones. Based on our results, we're prepared to make a few recommendations and offer a few tips to keep you safe.

Privacy search engine landscape

There's a lot of privacy concerns when searching online:

  • Big tech companies store search data on millions of individuals including you.
  • You can be shown personalized results that keep you in a sort of exposure bubble.
  • There's also worries about data sharing with third-parties you have no relationship with.

Fortunately, there's a lot of great alternatives and the right one depends on exactly what you're looking for in a search engine.

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo - a privacy search engine

DuckDuckGo search engine

DuckDuckGo has become synonymous, at least among techies, as the private alternative to Google. The search engine and the company has built their brand on privacy. In our teardown, DuckDuckGo scored top marks for a lack of cookies and persistent storage and no third-party requests. It's just a few clicks away to make it your browser's default search engine, and when the results aren't quite what you're looking for, you can prefix your query with !g to search Google.

The user experience is fantastic and they have mobile apps for Android and iOS as well as a Mac desktop app. The mobile app on Android can also double as tracker protection even for requests made in other apps. By using Bing's search index under the hood, the search results are pretty close to Google's in quality. DuckDuckGo is a great overall choice for a private search engine.

Mojeek

Mojeek, an independent search engine

Mojeek, an independent search engine

Mojeek is a UK-based search engine that has built their own search index rather than using Bing's like many of the others here (Mojeek has advertised with EthicalAds in the past). In our teardown, Mojeek was fantastic and didn't share any data, had no requests blocked by ad blockers, and in fact, the whole search engine homepage and results page loaded everything from a single domain.

While the search engine results page is a bit spartan, it loads very fast and the actual result quality was pretty good. If you're looking for an independent search engine that doesn't rely on big tech at all, Mojeek is amazing.

You.com

Details of Python's hashlib in YouCode search

Details of Python's hashlib in YouCode search

You.com allows you to customize your search experience by showing results from common websites you visit (You.com has advertised with EthicalAds in the past). One big advantage that comes from these integrations is that it can function as a great developer search engine and that's why the team built YouCode search. YouCode integrates results from common developer sites like StackOverflow and Read the Docs, the parent of EthicalAds, directly onto the search engine results screen.

While I couldn't find details on You.com's search index, based on their search results, it's clear that at least in some queries You.com is relying on Bing's index. That means that the result quality will stay high. In our privacy teardown, You.com and YouCode got close to top marks. For a search engine tuned for developer queries, You.com and specifically YouCode is a good choice.

Brave search

Brave search

Brave is a search engine from the folks who created the Brave Browser. In our teardown, its results were perfect with no cookies, trackers, third-parties, or any other privacy violations. Like Mojeek but unlike the rest of the bunch, Brave has built their own search index although in some cases they claim to mix their results with Bing's. Despite mostly relying on its own search index, I was pretty impressed with the search result quality and order even when compared to Bing itself.

Like DuckDuckGo, Brave has desktop and mobile apps so you can search privately everywhere. They claim not to store searches, clicks, or any other data and allow truly anonymous searches. Brave specifically mentions that they do not filter or downrank any search results. For a good alternative from a team focused on privacy, you can't go wrong with Brave Search.

Other alternatives

SwissCows search engine

SwissCows search engine homepage

There are even more privacy-focused search engines that we did not detail in our privacy teardown. You might consider these search engines if you have particular concerns about data jurisdiction. From a quality perspective, most of these search engines rely on search indexes from other search engines.

  • SwissCows - SwissCows is a Swiss-hosted search engine that like DuckDuckGo uses Bing's index to fulfill search queries. It claims its results are "family friendly" and that they do not store any user data.
  • Qwant - Qwant is a French search engine that also uses Bing's search index.
  • Searx - Searx is an open source meta search engine that relies on results from other search engines.

Recommendations

Unless you have specific concerns, you can't go too far wrong with any of these privacy-minded alternatives. As an every day search engine, DuckDuckGo is popular with the EthicalAds and Read the Docs teams while respecting your privacy. For a search engine completely separate from the tech titans, try Mojeek or Brave Search and for a more developer focused search experience, both You.com and DuckDuckGo are great.

Do you disagree with our recommendations or you have something to add? Get in touch. We always love to hear from you.

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