Facebook is not the only company whose business model involves monetizing user data. From its core search product to its early role in developing Pokemon Go-parent Niantic, Google has always been at the foreground of surveillance capitalism.
As early as 2009, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google has drawn flack for what can seem like an absolutist view on privacy, and its practice of continuing to store your information, including everything you’ve ever searched, even if you deleted your history.
“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” Schmidt said, according to EFF’s transcript. “If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines—including Google—do retain this information for some time and it’s important.”
On one hand, it makes sense that search engines — which must translate incoherent assemblages of words like “pizza near me” into helpful results — track your data. How else would they know what pizza is “near you” in the first place? That said, there are a number of other search engines out there that have tried to make privacy improvements a cornerstone of the product.
Mojeek is new to the scene, but has seen its search volume grow 500 percent over the last year, according to the company. The privacy-oriented search engine doesn’t track any identifying information about its users, including IP addresses, search history or click behavior. Mojeek rejects the idea this data collection helps them serve better results, instead ranking results based only on the keywords you input. In an added bonus, the company is hosted and run via one of the UK’s greenest datacenters — CustodianDC.
Name aside, Swisscow offers an interesting balance of privacy and content curation. It doesn’t collect your IP address, nor does it register what browser you’re using to search (but if you want a good list of privacy oriented browsers you can find one here). The company also forgoes tactics like geotargeting or using cookies to determine additional information about its users. Swisscow emphasizes it doesn’t share any information with third parties, but also makes clear that it can’t, because it doesn’t gather or store information on you.
The one consideration, which could be considered an upside for some, is that Swisscow censors its results to make them family friendly. On the site it notes they promote moral values, hate violence and pornography, and promote digital media education. For some this may be a reason not to use it, but parents may find it useful for protecting their kid’s privacy and limiting their content exposure.
Duck Duck Go
Duck Duck Go is perhaps the most well-known privacy oriented search tool. The company doesn’t use logs or tracking, has a great user interface, and minimal ads. Because they don’t track you, they aren’t targeted but it still returns a good search quality as it primarily sources its searches through Yahoo!. That being said, it’s not foolproof: It doesn’t protect you with local encryption, doesn’t delete browsing history, and is a U.S.- based company that runs off of Amazon’s cloud computing service, meaning there are places where your privacy could be compromised.
Qwant is a privacy-oriented search engine based in France. They never record your searches or harvest your personal data for ad-targeting, according to their website. Qwant offers a lot of features similar to DuckDuckGo, including a feature it calls “Qwick Search Shortcuts”, which allows research from many specific websites using keyboard shortcuts. By adding the symbol ‘&’ or ‘!’ followed by the name of your favorite website, you immediately have access to the result, according to the website.
Search Encrypt is another search site that puts privacy at the forefront. The company claims it doesn’t track any identifiable information about users, and, in a useful perk, uses local encryption to keep searches secure. It has 23 million visitors each day, according to the site. One difference from other engines is that it’s a metasearch engine. This means it uses another search engine’s data to produce its own results, pulling data from a network of search partners.
The engine’s most unique feature is its auto-delete feature for your local browsing history, which purges your history after 15 minutes of inactivity on the site, so even if someone were to get access to your computer, it wouldn’t store all the local history of your searches.
Other Search Alternatives
There are other alternatives. Some of these are just other forms of Google in a way, and are in no way privacy oriented. These engines include ones like Yandex, which is basically Russian Google, and has a variety of privacy concerns, Yahoo!, which, as mentioned, has had a concerning relationship with the NSA, and Ask.com.
None of these engines are perfect necessarily. All of them have areas you should pay attention to, and as threats to privacy grow, so will the tools needed to counter them. It’s a constant back and forth battle. But in that landscape, search engines that value your privacy are a good weapon to have.