Privacy Focused Search Engines

Monday , 19, August 2019

Google continues to dominate online search, as we outlined in our introductory post about search engines aptly titled Search Engines and Google.

We then dedicated an entire post to decentralized search engines, since your search topics colectively paint a highly detailed view of your personal life. They allow users to run their own nodes. This is great for companies that want to provide internal search to their employees without handing over lots of information to large search providers.

We also explored Internet of Things searching, with search engines like Shodan that allow us to locate everything from webcams to routers to mainframe computers. That’s quite an important topic these days, as vast numbers of devices get connected to the Internet.

In this installment we bring you a look at privacy focused search engines. This category deserves its own post because of the growing importance of online privacy and the central role search providers play.

Privacy focused search engines are a popular type of specialized search engine. An increasingly popular search engine that does not operate in this way is DuckDuckGo. This search engine claims to be much more privacy friendly than popular choices, giving you custom, yet seemingly high quality search results.

DDG is probably the most popular privacy-centric search engines, although it’s tiny compared to Google, doing about 1.3 billion searches per month. They are a US-based company that also writes an informative blog.

Another popular search engine is StartPage, which makes the same claims about respecting user privacy. The most significant difference is that while DuckDuckGo uses its own search results, StartPage queries Google on your behalf and returns the results to you. Notably these two are located in different jurisdictions as well. IXQuick was the original engine, based out of the Netherlands, but merged into Startpage.

search results pages include a semantic map on the right that lets users drill down further

Another privacy first search engine is SwissCows, operating from Switzerland. SwissCows claims to not log any IP addresses or identify browsers, operating systems, etc. They also have an option to present an interesting semantic map for results that allows you to refine your search results for more specificity.

more specific results after drilling down twice using the semantic map

SwissCows has a filter by date option available to limit results to date ranges and pre-filter objectionable content in order to block pornography and some violence. There is also a regional setting to get a localized result set, although the country choices are fairly Euro-centric.

The fine folks at have a privacy-focused search engine offering as well. This outfit specializes in privacy tools like VPN and email service. One feature they have is a chooser at the search bar to search DuckDuckGo, Bing or Yahoo but it did not work for me, not to mention the obvious “Why Yahoo?”

Another privacy first search engine is Oscobo, with a clean interface and sensible search results. I don’t see anything that differentiates this UK search engine from the others, and there is little information on the website. Strangely enough it has a download Oscobo browser page that has only a link to a setup.exe file. No description, no explanation, no checksum just a link to a binary. I can’t imagine a search engine company not realizing how shady this looks, and for that reason I’m not going to use it.

MetaGer is another privacy search engine that’s usable but unspectacular. In fact they store your IP address, user-agent string, search query and language prefs short term, and share a lot of that with marketing partners. They do operate a Tor version of the site, which reduces that information.

One thing I liked is clearly labeling where each result came from (Yahoo, Mehr, etc) and I thing I did not like was that even if my IP address came from the UK I got a fair number of search results in German until I set the language filter. Other filters include safe search and a date filter.

Yet another privacy search engine is called Qwant. Based in France, this search engine says it does not store or share any user data unless you’re applying for a job, in which case it is only shared with relevant partners. it seems to present good results in a speedy fashion and we like it.

Yet another privacy search engine that shows you results from Google, but does not pass along any information about the party doing the searching is, which seems find albeit uninspiring.

Stay tuned for another installment in our search engine series coming soon. Yes, there are many more categories of search to explore and we plan to present the most interesting choices to you in this series.