Private Search Engines – A Complete Guide
What is a Private Search Engine?
Private search engines work exactly like big search engines, like Google or Yahoo!, except they don’t gather, store or process any information about you or your searches. Many of these private search engines skip tracking and use additional features or settings to make their search engines as private as possible. When you search with one of these search engines, your searches aren’t linked to your computer, or your email account.
Are there any Private Search Engines That Look Like Google?
The functionality of private search tools doesn’t stray far from the core functionality of Google and other major players in the search industry. StartPage actually uses results from Google, but takes steps to anonymize your identity.
The best private search engines offer relevant search results with clean and modern user-interfaces. Making these private alternatives easy-to-use and intuitive is essential for keeping users from switching back to the big search engines they used before.
What is the Difference Between Private Browsing Mode and Private Search Engines?
Private browsing modes don’t offer much privacy protection, as the name implies. These still allow the websites you visit to track you on their sites, and still gives your browsing data to your internet service provider. All the private browsing modes do is clear your cookies and your browsing history once your session is over.
Big search engines have such advanced tracking capabilities, they can link you to your searches with fingerprinting even in private browsing mode.
What is the value of a “private” search engine?
Private search engines deliver relevant results without trading them for your data. With big search engines, you are giving away tons of data in exchange for “relevant” and “customized” results. Without gathering this information, there is much less risk that your data will be leaked to anyone.
Why Should You Use a Private Search Engine?
- No Tracking of Personal Information
- Objective, Neutral Search Results
- Private Browsing Isn’t Enough
- Searches Aren’t Linked to Your Email Account
- Private Search Engines Empower Users
Without tracking, search engines serve you fewer ads and less-intrusive ads. Your results can’t be influenced by your past searches or web browsing.
Normal search engines will normally cache your search terms and the pages you visit. Then anyone with access to your computer will have access to this information. Google has added encryption to user search terms, however this doesn’t keep that information from going to Google and anyone it chooses to share that information with.
Peace of Mind
Searching with private search engines gives users peace of mind that their searches aren’t being monitored — by the search engine itself, or by third-parties like the NSA. The data profiles that different organization store about you, can be used against you in a number of ways. These can lead to employer, consumer, and even criminal discrimination if used incorrectly.
Objective and Neutral Search Results
Your results won’t be biased from your past searches. Filter bubbles are a real problem, because they eliminate opposing views from your search results and social media feeds. Private search engines deliver the same results for every user, because they don’t use complex data profiles to tailor search results.
Private Browsing Modes Aren’t Private
In private browsing or Incognito Mode, your browser doesn’t track information about your internet behavior. However, information is still stored and sent from the websites you visit. Private search engines can truly keep your search terms hidden and in encrypted form.
What Does Incognito Mode Do?
Using Incognito Mode, Chrome won’t save the following information:
- Your browsing history
- Cookies and site data
- Information entered in forms
When users open an incognito window, Google discloses: Your activity might still be visible to:
- Websites you visit
- Your employer or school
- Your internet service provider
Searches Aren’t Linked To Your Email or Other Accounts
Private search engines, for the most part, are focused on delivering reliable and useful search tools. Unlike big search engines which try to gather your information from as many angles as possible, private search engines have one product which doesn’t collect user data.
Google, for example, has hundreds of products and services which collect and process user data. If you use Gmail for your email and Google for your search engine, your data profile is more complete because Google can link your searches to your email address and your name. Private search engines to track or store any of this information.
Profits vs. Privacy
Big search engines have massive advertising networks. If your search engine is also running a massive advertising network, why should it act in its users’ best interests and not in the advertisers’ paying for user data? Giving users control over their data means that companies like Facebook would have less information to use for ad targeting–cutting into their profits.
A lack of privacy gives advertisers the abilities to maliciously target users, giving them power to influence buying behavior. Search providers have a choice to make, profit from user data or use a different business model.
Beyond these reasons, using a private search engine helps improve the general climate and culture around privacy. There is a stigma around privacy, because some people think that the only people interested in staying private are those doing illegal stuff on the internet. This isn’t true. There are tons of people in the world that see the value in staying private, who are doing so completely legally and ethically.
Privacy matters because it limits the powers of oppressive governments, hackers, and businesses who maliciously target you with ads. If people have the power to be private, and not lose control of their data, they are more willing to speak freely — which allows information to flow on the internet.
Another reason privacy matters is the effect of filter bubbles created by data profiles and algorithmic websites. Filter bubbles are a type of intellectual isolation that polarize political views and actually limit flow of information on the web.
Alternative Search Engines are Better for Users
Without substantial data about your interests and beliefs, search engines can’t tailor your results to your views. Many big search engines face criticism about their content “filtering” of certain political stories and websites.
Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day, controlling 91.25% of the market share. With this much control, the results that Google displays can greatly impact the views and knowledge of the entire world. If these results are somehow skewed by algorithms towards a certain viewpoint, general knowledge could then be biased or swayed towards a certain view. Private search engines offer more objective and unbiased results.
What Is the Business Model of Private Search Engine?
Private search engines use completely different business models than traditional search engines. Over time, major search engines have grown into massive data collection operations. To minimize the risks associated with collecting and storing user data, private search engines skip this altogether.
Private Search Engines Still Use Ads
There is a bit of a misconception that private search engines don’t serve ads like the mainstream search engines. Private search engines do, in fact, serve ads. The difference though is in how they do this. The only information that private search engines use to target these ads is what you typed in the search bar.
Big search engines that also run the internet’s largest advertising networks use all the information they collect to serve ads outside of their search results, on websites you visit. Ads on private search engines are much less intrusive because they are only shown in relevant search results.
Most private search engines make money by displaying a few ads at the top of search results and with affiliate links. The search ads are based solely on the user’s search term, and not past searches or demographic information. The affiliate link portion is done by adding a tag to URLs to sites like Amazon and if the user makes a purchase the search engine gets a small percentage of the sale.
Private Search Engines vs. Big Search Engines
One common idea is that private search engines’ results aren’t as relevant as search engines like Google, Yahoo! or Bing. This premise is likely centered around the lack of personalized results.
Privacy-focused search engines don’t deliver results based on your location or past searches like big search engines can. So rather than searching for “Restaurants near me”, you will instead have to search for “Restaurants in Los Angeles” (or whatever city you are in). Another example is that if you are interested in Apple computers, you will have to search for “Apple computers” rather than simply “computers” because private search engines don’t have the information that you often read articles about Apple products.
Privacy or Convenience
This minor inconvenience is hardly noticeable once you get used to using private alternative search engines. Reducing your digital footprint limits the ways that companies with your data profiles can use this data against you. It may feel like a convenience that Google can show you ads about things you’re interested in. However, it also uses its data to let businesses charge you more, if you appear to be someone willing or able to spend more.
Will Private Search Become More Important?
Recently privacy has jumped to the front of people’s minds in the wake of the Facebook data scandal. Every time a story about a data breach comes up, people react by moving away from less-private websites and internet services. For the most part, big search engines haven’t had a large-scale privacy breach. All it will take is one big hack or data breach into Google, to cause a massive shift to private search alternatives.
As awareness about privacy issues grows, more people will seek out privacy tools and services like VPNs and private search engines.
Concerns with Private Search Engines
When people switch from a major search engine to a private search engine, people are also migrating their trust. Any particular private search engine may be trustworthy now, but what happens if a big search engine acquires them in the future? The simple answer is that is won’t matter.
Unfortunately with many things on the internet, it’s difficult to 100% verify that a search engine is private or not. But users can choose between big search engines that explicitly state that they use your data or private search engines which base their entire business model on privacy.