Why you should use alternative search engines

Published Jul 15, 2022 by Xiph

Search engines are a necessity to access information in today’s world, although most of them serve as data collection tools for advertising companies. Big search engines like Google, Yahoo! and the whole cahoots collect far more data and information about you than you might realise. They even censor search results based on dubious filtering and sometimes outright manipulation. If you’re looking for alternative search engines that can give you unbiased search results and respect your privacy, read on. 

Why you should use alternative search engines

Why are people still using Google?

There are a few reasons why Google is still the most popular search engine globally (with a 90% market share and counting). It has a uniquely user-friendly interface, promotes faster load speeds and has the most advanced search algorithm to date. The Google Search Algorithm uses hundreds of ranking factors to turn up results relevant for each user, besides just keyword mentions, usability, and backlinks. It even employs other search algorithms that all work in sync to return results that best match a user’s intent in just seconds. Google's success comes from its ability to provide higher-quality results for each user and the tech giant is always evolving and looking to improve its search engine algorithm.

However, online users are becoming increasingly wary about how much data Google collects about them and how it uses that information to make money. Basically, anything that’s connected to Google is likely used to collect your data. This includes your browsing behaviour, Gmail and YouTube activity, news you’ve read on Google News, the places you’ve been in Google Maps, Google searches and online purchases. People are also becoming increasingly concerned about voice search and virtual assistants like Google Home and Google Assistant being used to listen to more than just requests.

 

Find out: Is your phone listening to you?

 

Quick history recap of search engines

The internet already had several search engines (i.e. WebCrawler, Lycos, Yahoo!, etc.) when it became publicly available in the 1990s, although most were a bit slow and cumbersome. They were all eventually overtaken by AltaVista which became one of the most popular search engines due to its design – it was the first searchable, full-text database on the web via a simple interface. Then in 1998, Google launched and blew all others out of the park. It would load pages in one-third of the time than other search engines and debuted PageRank − an algorithm created by the company’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, that would identify the quantity and quality of links to a certain page. The more web pages linked to a particular site, the more relevant it was likely to be and so it was given a higher ranking. The reason Google swept all before it was that its ranking system seemed objective − it just counted links and ranked accordingly. That was of course before it started making money from advertising – that’s when the integrity of its results became undermined by commercial interests and concerns around data privacy began emerging.

What’s the best search engine for privacy?

DuckDuckGo is the antithesis of Google when it comes to favouring user privacy. It’s one of the most widely used privacy-oriented search engines with approximately 30 million daily users. It doesn’t store your IP address, search history, or user information, so all searches done via the platform remain anonymous. This also means that DuckDuckGo delivers the same search results to everyone since it doesn’t curate unique searches for each user based on their search histories. It’s unbiased in the way it delivers information, although DuckDuckGo has recently been accused of engaging in censorship after announcing that it will “down-rank sites associated with Russian disinformation.” Is censorship different from restrictions on misleading information? That’s an issue still being debated.

The good thing is that it doesn’t sell your personal data to commercial companies and third parties like Google and Facebook. DuckDuckGo makes its money through traditional advertising (i.e. sponsored ads) and affiliate commissions. The ads are privacy-friendly and are often relevant to the search. DuckDuckGo’s clean interface and simple user experience make using the platform a no-fuss experience.

Today, more and more search engines pop up claiming to protect their users’ privacy, and to some degree they do, although keep in mind that websites you visit still use cookies to track your browsing activity. Once you click on a search result, the site you land on can record your IP address and track your use. Your internet service provider (ISP) also tracks your activity no matter which search engine you use. Most private search engines will outline this in their terms of service.

 

Find out: 8 tips on how to stay anonymous online

 

Search alternatives to Google that respect your privacy

If you’re concerned about your data being collected and used by Google and other tech giants, check out these alternative ‘private’ search engines:

  1. DuckDuckGo
  2. Startpage 
  3. Qwant
  4. Swisscows
  5. Search Encrypt
  6. Ecosia
  7. You.com
  8. OneSearch
  9. MetaGer
  10. Mojeek

Which search engines don’t sell your data?

‘Alternative’ private search engines don't collect or sell, or otherwise use your data. However, websites you visit using private search engines still do. You’re only protected up until the moment you click on a search result. That’s why using a virtual private network (VPN) anytime you’re online is important − it can encrypt your traffic and conceal your location to make it more difficult for third parties and hackers to track your online activity.

It’s also worth mentioning that Google and other traditional search engines don’t technically 'sell' your data to marketers, but do sell access to you (or rather your customer persona) for targeted advertising and to serve you ‘relevant ads’ while you're surfing the web. You can manage how much data gets used to personalise ads to you in your Ad Settings. You can also permanently delete the activity data tied to your account at any time.

Is there such a thing as an unbiased search engine?

Most traditional search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing only show search results based on a user’s browser history, interests and preferences – this is a phenomenon known as the echo chamber or ‘filter bubble’, so people receive only information that coincides with their own beliefs and opinions, thus creating a very narrow view of the world. This is arguably a form of censorship.

Most ‘anonymous’ search engines like DuckDuckGo, Startpage and others offer seemingly unbiased search results and deliver the same search results to every user since they’re not curating unique searches for each user based on their search history. 

A final word

Besides Google, there are plenty of other companies and third-party data brokers that collect your information to make money with targeted ads — not to mention cybercriminals looking to use your personal data for shady or illegal purposes. Using a private search engine is just one way to retain some privacy and protect your data, although keep in mind that there’s no universal ‘best private search engine’ that will suit or please everyone. For advice or more information contact us via email: [email protected]


Posted in: Security