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August 5, 2021

Privacy Tip of the Week: Use a Private Search Engine

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It’s no secret that if you want to protect your privacy, you probably shouldn’t use the internet. Unfortunately, that’s rarely an option for most of us. The web has been tightly integrated into every aspect of our lives. We need it to work, to shop, to stay connected, and more. Fortunately, you don’t just have to accept a lack of digital privacy. There are many different ways of protecting yourself online. One of the easiest methods is to use a private search engine. Let’s get into the details of what a private search engine is and why you should use one.

  • What is a private search engine?
  • Private search engine pros and cons
  • Why should you use one?
  • The danger of regular search engines
  • Why you should avoid Incognito Mode
  • Our list of the best private search engines

What is a Private Search Engine?

Like the name suggests, a private search engine is a way to search the internet while protecting your privacy. Regular search engines collect and store your browsing data. This data includes what you search, the websites you visit, your IP address, and sometimes even your name and real address. Most of this data is collected by cookies, which are little bits of code that make the web more convenient. For example, some cookies are responsible for remembering your usernames and passwords so you don’t have to sign in to your online accounts every time. Unfortunately, although they add convenience to the virtual world, they decrease privacy.

By contrast, a private search engine collects no data about you. Every private search engine works a little differently so read up on their privacy policies and FAQs before deciding which one to use. NOTE: Although a private search engine will not collect your data, it cannot guarantee that the other websites you visit will respect your privacy in the same way. For the strongest possible privacy, pair a private search engine with a virtual private network, like HotBot VPN. Check out our own privacy policy.

Private Search Engine Pros and Cons

Private search engines are a great alternative to traditional ones like Google. They allow you to access everything on the web without having to sacrifice your privacy to do it. But for all their pros, they also have a few cons you should consider. You can check out our full article about the pros and cons of private search engines, but here are some of the most important:

  • Pro: Privacy. The main benefit of using a private search engine is, of course, that your browsing activity and personal information remain private.
  • Con: Results. Smaller, alternative search engines often don’t have the resources to build ultra-complex search algorithms like mainstream search engines do. This means the results you get based on your searches might not be as advanced as what you’d expect from a major search engine.
  • Pro: (No) Ads. Without access to your private data (often shared with them by cookies used on regular search engines), advertisers typically can’t serve you personalized ads. You may still see regular ads though.
  • Con: (No) Search History. Because private search engines don’t store your data, many of them don’t store your search history either. This can be annoying if you’re trying to return to a specific web page but can’t remember where you found it.
  • Pro: Trust. When you use a private search engine, you can generally trust that your privacy is better protected than it would be on a traditional search platform.
  • Con: Standardization. Although some privacy-focused legislations are in the works, there are few hard and fast rules that search engines must follow regarding how they treat your privacy. This means that, even if a private search engine claims to protect your privacy, some may be better at it than others.

Why Should You Use a Private Search Engine?

There are several reasons to use private search engines including:

  • No tracking
  • Peace of mind
  • Neutral/objective search results
  • No links to personal information

Let’s break them down:

No Tracking

Private search engines don’t track you or your search habits. What this means is that any ads you see will be impersonal (not tailored to your search history), your results won’t be biased based on previous searches, and information about your browsing history can’t be sold to third-parties because no information about you is stored in the first place.

Peace of Mind

When you know your information isn’t being collected, you can feel safe in your online activities. By not collecting your data, private search engines also reduce the risk of data breaches because there is no data to breach. No one can share or sell your information, and no one can use it against you either.

Neutral/Objective Search Results

When using a regular search engine, the data collected about you informs that engine of the results you’re most likely to click. This results in a biased list of results, and often eliminates opposing points of view on a subject. With private search engines, because they have no data about you, results are unbiased and the same for any user looking for the same search term.

No Links to Personal Information

Some browsers, most notably Google, offer a ton of other products that require you to create a user profile. That profile can then be linked to your search history. Using this data, larger companies have access to your name, email, home address, gender, and search interests, and that data can be sold to third-parties. Using a private search engine prevents that from happening.

The Danger of Using Regular Search Engines

It’s undeniably more convenient to use common search engines. Engines like Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and more come built into our devices and can be opened with a single click or tap. Unfortunately, we risk a lot in exchange for convenience. Some of the dangers of using regular search engines include:

  • Data collection and selling. Search engines use cookies to collect your personal information. Sometimes these cookies make browsing the web easier. Some remember your login information for your online accounts so you don’t have to log in every time. Others pre-load page elements for websites you’ve visited before, in order to speed up online response times. Unfortunately, many cookies collect information about you, including your name, history of activity, location, interests, and more. Worse than that, some search engines even sell the data they collect, which means anyone with deep pockets can access your data too.
  • Data breaches. Cybercriminals are all too aware of the wealth of user data stored by major search engines. This makes them prime targets for cyber attacks. If these attacks are successful, the data of millions of users, including you, could be compromised.
  • Confirmation bias. Because regular search engines collect and analyze your data, they are able to create eerily specific profiles about you. This helps them improve their services by answering your searches with the results they most believe are relevant to you. While this is helpful when it comes to finding dinner recipes, it might be dangerous for learning accurate information about more important topics, especially in areas like science and politics.

Why Should You Avoid Incognito Mode?

Many people make the error of believing that the built-in “privacy mode” most web browsers offer is the same as using a private search engine. These features are usually called “Incognito” or “Private” browsing. However, in order to enhance your privacy, they simply hide your browsing activity and searches from your local device. This means other users of your device won’t see what you’re doing on it, which is great. However, external users like advertisers may still see your activity, which reduces the level of privacy most people believe they get with incognito or private browsing modes.

Our List of the Best Private Search Engines

If you’re considering using a private search engine, you want to make sure that you’re using one that’s fast, functional and, above all, private. Unfortunately, not all of the platforms out there offer all three of these features. Our tips for vetting your own search engines, along with our private search engine list, can help you find the best option for your needs.

  • Read the privacy policy. Before settling on a private search engine, read the privacy policies of any candidate you have in mind. This is the best way to get an idea of what, exactly, they’re promising to protect, and what data they may still be collecting, if any.
  • Choose your payment tier. Many private search engines are free to use. However, in order to remain in operation, they have to earn revenue somehow. This is most often done through the use of ads, which could open you up to the potential for ad tracking. If you want to avoid this risk altogether, opt for a paid private search engine. The subscription fee you pay goes towards keeping ads off the platform.
  • Explore their website. The platform should be as transparent as possible when explaining how they keep you private. If you have questions about how they operate that you can’t find answers for, the platform may not be transparent enough.

Some of the best private search engines on the market today include:

  • DuckDuckGo. It’s one of the oldest and most trusted private search engines out there. DuckDuckGo also has a policy of 100% transparency.
  • Startpage. They draw their results from Google’s search algorithm so you’ll always get the best responses to your questions. However, they leave the tracking out and allow you to personalize your experience.
  • Qwant. Based on Bing’s search engine, Qwant offers tracking-free searches. They promise not to share your data with third parties.
  • Ecosia. For those who want to do some good for the world while searching privately online, Ecosia uses the revenue they generate to plant trees. However, most of their revenue comes from advertising.

Conclusion

Private search engines are the best alternatives to traditional platforms for any user who wants to protect their privacy online. Traditional search engines collect a lot of user data, and may sell it too, so that you have no idea whose hands your information is in. If you want to remain in control of your data as much as possible, combine a private search engine with a virtual private network, and enjoy online browsing with privacy and anonymity.

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