Searching in privacy

It’s December and traditionally you get served big portions of the annual overviews the year has brought us and this year an overview of the entire decade will be the extra layer in our annual retrospect cakes.

This spotlight isn’t about that but I will highlight an issue that dominated not just 2019, but the entire decade: Privacy on the internet.

I have nothing to hide

When the privacy on internet debate began in the previous decade, it was defended by the big tech giants that they did it for our security. This way they could track shady business more easily and guaranteed our safety. In this time the “I have nothing to hide” attitude was born and it stayed with most of us through this day.

The internet has intertwined in our lives and we’re at the point of no return, banks, insurance companies and some shops have practically disappeared from our streets and evolved in a strong virtual presence, even governmental services are in transit to extend their virtual presence for 80%. I think the government or city halls can’t completely evolve with a 100% virtual presence, but on the other hand, the last thirty years we have witnessed the unthinkable made possible, so who knows…

Convenience

More people are getting aware of the intrusion of privacy done by major tech companies and I’m not running for Pope here, so I do admit that certain services provided by these companies are bringing a lot of comfort in our lives. I compare privacy awareness on the internet by getting aware that eating meat every single day has its toll on the environment. You love eating meat and dairy products, so you don’t want to give it up entirely.

The first step could be by eating once or twice a week a meatless meal and on the privacy issue, you could use and support browsers, like our installed by default Firefox that is completely open-source and also, use a search engine that doesn’t collect your data.

I’m going to present you some alternatives to Google that respects your privacy.

Duck duck go

I think this one is the best known and widely used search engine by privacy-conscience users.

DuckDuckGo, unlike Google, utilizes the traditional method of “sponsored links” to display the advertisements. The ads are not focused on you but only the topic you are searching for – so there is nothing that could generate a profile of you in any manner – thereby respecting your privacy.

Of course, DuckDuckGo’s search algorithm may not be the smartest around (because it has no idea who you are!). And, if you want to utilize one of the best privacy oriented alternative search engines to Google, you will have to forget about getting a personalized experience while searching for something.

The search results are simplified with specific meta data’s. It lets you select a country to get the most relevant result you may be looking for. Also, when you type in a question or searching for a fix, it might present you with an instant answer (fetched from the source).

Although, you might miss quite a few functionalities (like filtering images by license) – that is an obvious trade-off to protect your privacy.

Qwant

This French search engine is my default on every browser I use and I even installed it on my phone.

Qwant is probably one of the most loved privacy-oriented search engines after DuckDuckGo. It ensures neutrality, privacy, and digital freedom while you search for something on the Internet.

If you thought privacy-oriented search engines generally tend to offer a very casual user experience, you need to rethink after trying out Qwant. This is a very dynamic search engine with trending topics and news stories organized very well. It may not offer a fully personalized experience (given that it does not track you) – but it does feel like a complete experience and it even uses Gnome maps, although in beta.

Qwant is a very useful search engine alternative to Google. It lists out all the web resources, social feeds, news, and images on the topic you search for.

Ecosia

Ecosia is a one-of-a-kind privacy-focused search engine that actually plants trees if you use it.

It doesn’t enforce any kind of trackers (even if you notice sponsored ads). So, when you use their search engine, they make money (which includes monetary benefits from sponsored ads). Next, they contribute a significant amount of money to notable organizations and activists helping plant more trees.

At first, this might seem something to be controversial. But, they share monthly financial reports and there are some established organizations involved with Ecosia to help plant more trees. In addition to all this, their servers run on 100% renewable energy.

Swisscows

No, it isn’t a farmers website for trading, selling or buying Swiss cows, it is a search engine that was formerly known as Hulbee.com. For some reason, they headed into a new direction with a new domain name.

Swisscows utilizes Bing to deliver the search results as per your query. When you search for something, you would notice a tag cloud on the left sidebar which is useful if you need to know about the related key terms and facts. The design language is a lot simpler but one of its kind among the other search engines out there. You get to filter the results according to the date but that’s about it – no more advanced options to tweak your search results. It utilizes a tile search technique (a semantic technology) to fetch the best results to your queries. The search algorithm makes sure that it is a family-friendly search engine with pornography and violence ruled out completely.

SearX

searX is an interesting search engine – which is technically defined as a “metasearch engine”. In other words, it utilizes other search engines and accumulates the results to your query in one place. It does not store your search data being an open-source metasearch engine at the same time. You can review the source code, contribute, or even customize it as your own metasearch engine hosted on your server.

If you are fond of utilizing Torrent clients to download stuff, this search engine will help you find the magnet links to the exact files when you try searching for a file through searX. When you access the settings (preferences) for searX, you would find a lot of advanced things to tweak from your end. General tweaks include – adding/removing search engines, rewrite HTTP to HTTPS, remove tracker arguments from URL, and so on. It’s all yours to control. The user experience may not be the best here but if you want to utilize a lot of search engines while keeping your privacy in check, searX is a great alternative to Google.

Peekier

Peekier is another fascinating privacy-oriented search engine. Unlike the previous one, it is not a metasearch engine but has its own algorithm implemented. It may not be the fastest search engine I’ve ever used but it is an interesting take on how search engines can evolve in the near future. When you type in a search query, it not only fetches a list of results but also displays the preview images of the web pages listed. So, you get a “peek” on what you seek. While the search engine does not store your data, the web portals you visit do track you.

So, in order to avoid that to an extent, Peekier accesses the site and generates a preview image to decide whether to head into the site or not (without you requiring to access it). In that way, you allow fewer websites to know about you – mostly the ones you trust.

MetaGer

This German search engine is yet another open-source metasearch engine. However, unlike others, it takes privacy more seriously and enforces the use of the Tor network for anonymous access to search results from a variety of search engines. Some search engines who claim to protect your privacy may share your information to the government (whatever they record) because the server is bound to US legal procedures. However, with MetaGer, the Germany-based server would protect even the anonymous data recorded while using MetaGer.

They do house a few numbers of advertisements (without trackers of course)- but you can get rid of those as well by joining in as a member of the non-profit organization – SUMA-EV – which sponsors the MetaGer search engine.

Gibiru

Gibiru is a privacy-friendly search engine that aims for uncensored search results. It doesn’t enforce any trackers but it recommends you to utilize ExpressVPN in addition to their search engine service, in order to prevent other websites to track your activity.

The search results may not be the best around – but it puts some interesting uncensored search results. You should give it a try.

As you noticed, de-Googling yourself isn’t a hard or limited option to tread the internet without giving up your privacy. Just try one of them and like many open-source projects, you are in the luxury of having a choice.

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4 thoughts on “Searching in privacy

  • December 9, 2019 at 09:23
    Permalink

    A modest remark from me. Startpage is since 10/2019 owned by ‘Privacy One Group’.
    http://techrights.org/2019/10/16/startpage-is-surveillance.
    Privacy One Group is incorporated and listed in Delaware. This means that they have to cooperate under (us-)patriot act with US-Gov. and services. For me startpage is a no go for our privacy purposes even startpage is a dutch company.

    Reply
    • December 9, 2019 at 11:48
      Permalink

      Thank you for pointing that one out, I didn’t know that. I’m going to remove it from the article.

      Reply
  • December 18, 2019 at 23:10
    Permalink

    Switched to Qwant from DuckDuckGo, to try it out.
    I don’t seem to have as many options as you do, tho; I cannot change to a dark theme for example. Is that because I don’t have an account?

    Reply
    • December 19, 2019 at 11:44
      Permalink

      I’ve tried it without an account and I get all the functions. (sent you a PM on the forum with an image)

      Reply

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