The best private search engines – our pick for 2023
Private search engines are steadily rising in popularity, but the gap between DuckDuckGo, the most popular privacy-oriented search engine in the US, and Google is huge. As of August 2023, Google’s market share was 89.04%, followed by Bing and Yahoo. DuckDuckGo came in 4th with a market share of just 1.81%.
You may already know the reason for this. Google offers relatively relevant results, very quickly, and in a variety of formats (text, video, maps). Over the years, it has become a cultural phenomenon. Sadly, Google is just as infamous for its privacy record, tracking people online across devices.
So, if you’re reading this article, you’re probably considering switching to a more private search engine. We’ll help you make the right choice. Read on to see which alternative, private search engine options we recommend in 2023.
Why Google is not a private search engine
Google has long been under scrutiny with regard to privacy due to the amount of personal information it collects. In a 2021 tweet, Edward Snowden referred to Google’s search engine as “inaccessible to anyone who cares about privacy” and deemed it “hostile” due to scripts and cookies that track users’ online activities. Yet most of us still rely on Google as our main gateway to internet resources.
If you are concerned with privacy, here are several reasons why you may want to stop using Google and search engines like Google:
- Data collection: Google’s search engine collects personal data and search history, which can be used for targeted advertising and profiling.
- Google tracking: Google tracks user activity across its platforms and services, including Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Maps, both online and offline, expanding the potential for profiling.
- Filter bubble: Google results are often customized based on user data, limiting the objectivity and neutrality of the information that’s made available.
What it takes to be the best private search engine in 2023
The best private search engines are not just about guarding your privacy and anonymity online. How they work and how they look are just as important. Competition among private search engines is fierce, and no wonder. In a landscape so dominated by popular search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, every converted user is gold.
Here’s what we think a perfect privacy-focused search engine looks like:
- It does not track, profile, store, or collect your information.
- It provides relevant results quickly.
- It uses encryption to protect your queries and data from third-party interference.
- It limits the use of third-party trackers such as cookies or analytic scripts.
- It has an easy-to-use interface.
- It has settings and options for a customized experience.
- It has its own web crawlers and does not rely on popular search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, or Yandex to deliver search results.
- It’s open-source, meaning that its source code is available for audit and scrutiny.
Now, let’s look at the best private search engines of 2023.
Brave Search is a private search engine developed by Brave, the company behind the popular privacy-centric web browser. It’s a very young product, launched in beta in June 2021 for public testing. It was fully released a year later, in June 2022.
It offers a unique combination of privacy features, community-driven development, and an independent search index. The search engine prioritizes privacy by not tracking or profiling users and aims to offer unbiased search results without targeted ads.
The best thing about Brave Search is that it’s an independent search engine that exclusively uses its own index and still delivers excellent quality search results. On top of that, it comes with a clean, easy-to-use interface and filters. Other features include top-of-the-page summaries (powered by Brave AI) and the option to use bangs. Lastly, there’s “Goggles” (in beta), showing you how results are ranked and offering other ranking options, in an effort to minimize bias.
- Its independent search index helps provide an unbiased search experience, offering diverse and inclusive results.
- Brave Search does not collect, track, or share user data.
- It returns excellent results.
- The search engine focuses on transparency by openly sharing how its search-ranking algorithms work.
- Brave Search is open-source and involves the community through open contributions and feedback.
- It enables bangs, which are commands that allow users to search a specific website directly from the Brave Search search bar without having to navigate to the website first.
- It works independently of the Brave browser.
- It collects “anonymous usage metrics” by default, but you can turn this off in the settings.
- Results are relevant but less so than Google’s, especially when it comes to images.
- Some users don’t trust Brave because it has its own ad-serving platform.
StartPage was launched in 1998 under the name ‘Ixquick’ and was rebranded as StartPage in 2009. The company is based in the Netherlands and has provided private search services for over two decades.
StartPage uses Google search results while acting as an intermediary or proxy between the user and Google. This means that when you run a search on StartPage, your queries are redirected through a proxy server, masking your identity from Google. Additionally, StartPage takes it further by proxying the connection to websites you visit.
StartPage comes with some limitations, such as the lack of advanced filtering options and additional features requiring a premium subscription. StartPage offers a free, ad-supported version and a premium subscription for $9.99 annually, which includes extra customization options and ad removal.
- StartPage does not collect or store personally identifiable information (PII).
- Delivers relevant search results.
- User searches are private and not linked to other online activities.
- The website offers additional privacy features, such as browsing via proxy or using an encrypted URL.
- StartPage is not independent of Google; while it does not share user data with Google, it does use Google’s search technology and servers and may provide biased results.
- Additional customization options like language and filtering preferences are only available to paid users.
- It’s not open-source.
DuckDuckGo was founded in 2008 by Gabriel Weinberg and has since grown in popularity. With over 100 million daily search queries, DuckDuckGo is widely recognized as a trustworthy alternative to Google.
That’s true for general queries such as “Paris Olympics 2024.” However, for more technical questions like “Is DuckDuckGo open-source?”, you may have to use Google to find out. There is no way to determine how many of these results are powered by mainstream search engines, and what percentage is independently powered by DuckDuckBot.
The interface looks similar to Google’s and, just like Google, the search bar offers several verticals (all, images, videos, news, and maps), instant answers (similar to Google’s snippets), and a “knowledge panel” on the search results page, with essential information sourced from Wikipedia.
- DuckDuckGo is primarily built with Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS), which means that most of its source code is publicly available for scrutiny.
- It offers excellent search results.
- DuckDuckGo prevents third-party scripts (including Microsoft scripts) from loading on websites.
- The search engine does not personalize results based on user data, removing the filter-bubble effect and providing more objective information.
- DuckDuckGo incorporates a range of additional privacy features, such as “bangs,” which allow users to directly search on other websites without exposing their data to those sites.
- It provides a clean and user-friendly interface, similar to mainstream search engines, making the transition to a private search engine seamless.
- DuckDuckGo relies on, among others, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex for search results.
- The search engine is entirely ad-supported, meaning you will be served ads but not targeted ads.
- DuckDuckGo is not entirely open-source.
Qwant is a privacy-focused search engine founded in 2013 and headquartered in France. It positions itself as a European search engine that respects users’ privacy by not tracking or profiling them.
Hands down, it’s the best-looking private search engine on this list. But all that glitters is not gold. Although Qwant is proud to use its web index, it depends on other search engines to complement its results. In fact, a 2019 audit by the Interdepartmental Digital Branch established that Bing powered 64% of Qwant results.
Qwant is free for users to access and does not rely on targeted advertising for revenue. Instead, it generates income through contextual ads, which are not based on user information.
- No search history, no profiling, and no cookies.
- Comprehensive search results for general queries.
- Qwant offers various features to enhance user privacy, such as “Qwick Search Shortcuts” that allow direct access to specific websites without passing through trackers.
- User-friendly interface with filtering options to refine results by web, news, images, videos, and social media.
- The search engine employs its own search index but relies on Bing as well.
- It’s available only in some countries.
- Users’ IP addresses and “user agents” are shared with Microsoft.
- Not open-source.
Searx is an open-source, privacy-focused metasearch engine that aggregates search results from various sources. It was first released in 2014 and has since gained in popularity among users who prioritize privacy over ease of use and interface features.
Searx is actually not a site but a free project with search instances hosted by individual contributors. It allows you to view results from any search engine out there and customize which search engine results you want to see. With a wide choice of search engines, the search results are also relevant but, for many, this type of solution is too technical and will be off-putting.
More advanced users or those whose threat models require extra caution also have the option to host their own Searx instance. This can be done on a home or rented server or VPS (virtual private server).
- Privacy-focused: Searx does not track, store, or share users’ personal information or search queries, prioritizing privacy and anonymity.
- Open-source and transparent.
- Customizable experience: since Searx can be self-hosted, users have the flexibility to customize their search features and preferences.
- Aggregates results from multiple search engines: Searx retrieves search results from different search engines, offering comprehensive results.
- Technical expertise required: setting up and maintaining a self-hosted instance of Searx may require specialized knowledge and server resources.
- Inconsistent search results: as Searx gathers results from multiple search engines, the relevancy and consistency of the search results may vary.
- Limited features and refinements: compared to mainstream search engines, Searx may have fewer advanced search features.
SwissCows is a Swiss-based private search engine that launched in 2014. It prioritizes user privacy and offers a family-friendly search environment by filtering out explicit and harmful content, such as pornography, from search results.
SwissCows is free and comes with a premium version called “SwissCows PRO.” The PRO version provides priority support and is ad-free.
- SwissCows does not track or store personally identifiable information (PII) and focuses on providing a secure search experience.
- Family-friendly filtering.
- SwissCows employs advanced semantic algorithms to provide relevant search results based on meaning and context.
- SwissCows adheres to strict Swiss data protection laws.
- Data retention: SwissCows collects and stores non-personal data for seven days, which may raise concerns for users seeking complete data anonymity.
- Reliance on Bing: while SwissCows uses its own technology and filtering mechanisms, it sources its search results from Bing.
- Limited language coverage.
MetaGer is a German-based metasearch engine founded in 1996. It aggregates results from four search engines to provide the best coverage: Yahoo, Bing, Scopia, and Infotiger. However, when you run a search request, you will notice that the overwhelming majority of results come from Yahoo and Yandex.
MetaGer delivers appropriate search results for general subjects, but the search engine lacks some of the usual features found in other search engines, and the interface looks very ‘90s. On the plus side, MetaGer is dedicated to reducing its environmental impact and claims to run its servers on renewable energy only.
- MetaGer does not store or track any personal data.
- It’s free, and the search is ad-free.
- The MetaGer source code is publicly available.
- Servers run on renewable energy sources.
- Results come mostly from Yahoo and Yandex.
- The interface is old-fashioned and lacks filters and features.
- Not a very effective search engine. You may need to use another search engine for more in-depth results.
Started as a personal project in 2004, Mojeek is an ambitious alternative search engine with its own web crawler and search index. As it does not rely on third-party search engines to deliver search results, you can trust that what this search engine returns is unbiased and independent of major search engines such as Google and Bing. The downside is that Mojeek’s index of web pages is less comprehensive than that of leading search engines today, and the results reflect that.
- Unbiased, independent search results.
- A private and anonymous search experience.
- Independent web crawler and indexing. It does not rely on Google or Bing for results.
- Smaller index of web pages: results are not always relevant.
- Not open-source.
Ecosia is a search engine founded in Berlin, Germany, with a mission to contribute to environmental sustainability. It aims to be CO2-negative and protect user privacy while staying transparent financially. It is definitely an ethical search engine rather than a privacy-focused one, because it does store your searches for seven days before anonymizing them. In addition, Ecosia sends some of your data to Bing, namely your obfuscated IP address, user agent string, search term, country, and language setting, which is a lot for a private search engine.
Like most search engines on this list, Ecosia has no web index of its own but uses Bing to power its search. This guarantees adequate search results and a similar level of bias all major search engines serve. That said, your online searches contribute to planting a tree, which is an appealing idea for many of us.
- Ecosia plants trees with its generated revenue to combat deforestation and climate change.
- Ecosia is a B Lab-certified search engine meeting sustainability, accountability, and performance standards.
- Clean interface and design.
- The filters and features are similar to those of top private search engines.
- Ecosia uses Bing to power its search engine.
- Some data is stored and shared with Bing and Microsoft. Ecosia does not meet basic private search engine standards.
- Ecosia is not open-source.
Launched in 2017, Search Encrypt is an anonymous search engine that employs encryption to conceal search terms locally before transmitting queries to servers. It’s a unique feature among search engines that prevents your internet service provider from accessing your search queries. Additionally, the search engine makes all online searches inaccessible after 30 minutes of inactivity, preventing any subsequent viewing.
Search Encrypt is a metasearch engine that retrieves search results from various sources, including its own index of websites and search results from Bing.
- Provides built-in SSL encryption and Perfect Forward Secrecy.
- Hides your searches from your internet service provider.
- Deletes history after a period of inactivity.
- It’s free (financed by ads).
- Powered by third-party search engines.
- The Search Encrypt extension collects data.
- There are few advanced search features and customization options.
- Good results for general queries, but you will need to refer to other search engines for information on technical subjects.
Which is the best private search engine overall?
The perfect private search engine doesn’t exist—most don’t even get close to the ideal (although you may argue that the ideal we set up at the start of this article is quite demanding). Yet the variety of options and approaches some of these privacy search engines offer is astounding.
Some encrypt your data, some let you check their code, some plant trees for your searches, while others run on wind power. As usual, the choice is yours and will depend on what you value most. Whether it’s the business model, customization possibilities, independence from the major players, or looks, we hope we’ve given you all you need to decide for yourself.