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Alternative Search Engines

I'm going to outline a little about some alternative search engines. The first question is: "Why would you want an alternative? Google is great." A few people feel that way about Bing. So, here are my answers:
  1. Google tracks you and invades your privacy
  2. Google filters what it presents according to its advertisers' wishes and its political beliefs. This is obviously true for items at the top of searches, particularly images, but is probably also true for the content of searches.
  3. Google filters its results according to your browsing history and previous searches. This gives you results tailored for you. The problem with this is that it narrows the information you receive and can create an idea bubble where the political ideas you receive are very narrow and limited. This is a kind of self-imposed censorship.
  4. I do not want a single company filtering what I see according to its values or even my own values. I want a wide range of diverse sources.
  5. There is no reason to believe that Microsoft's Bing is any different than Google.
  6. You can get better results using different search engines.

Edward Snowden retweeted this tweet yesterday.

To which Snowden responded:

For many years I used Startpage for my web searches. This privacy search engine filters out my information and passes the results on to Google anonymously. This stops Google from tracking me and also stops them from tailoring my results. As I grew less sanguine about Google's power, I switched to DuckDuckGo, which is a privacy search engine that does an excellent job with its own search indexers. DuckDuckGo gave me great results and broke my dependence on Google. But now, I think I've found something even better!

Here are the best privacy respecting search engines I know about. To make this list, the search engine site couldn't have trackers on it and needed to produce pretty good results. A number of sites claiming to be "privacy search engines" had Google trackers on their site.

Privacy: Do their own indexing. May also supplement from others.

  • Qwant: Uses its own search engine supplemented by Bing. Very good. I did an article about it here. This is French and is very pretty and nicely designed. Definitely worth a look. There are no trackers on their site. My rating: ****
  • DuckDuckGo: One of the oldest search engines. Very good. Excellent results. Respects your privacy and does not track you. A worthy choice. Stands on its own. I've used this for years and find it very good for normal searches. May supplement results. Ad-supported. There are no trackers on this site. My rating: *****
  • Cliqz Browser: plus whatever engine you choose. Cliqz is my recommended browser. It has its own search technology. They provide three instances suggestions from your search history and three suggestions from what other people have selected based on those search terms. So, if you have gone to the place before, or are trying to find a site but don't know the name, this is likely to suggest it almost immediately. If not, it will launch any of hundreds of other search engines you might like to use. My rating: *****. I suggest choosing DuckDuckGo, or Swisscows, or Qwant as your complementary search engine.
  • Gigablast  This is open source which is a big plus. I was not particularly impressed with the results though. However, it uses its own web spiders and has indexed billions of pages since 2000. I also don't like that it isn't https. My rating: ***
  • Findx Has users rate results which will be used to rank future results. An interesting startup. I haven't received great results from this engine. My rating: **
  • Faroo: Distributed. Over 2 million computers running their spiders indexing the web and many distributed servers providing results. Not centrally controlled. I haven't found great results from my testing. My rating: **
  • Swisscows - Its own search engine plus Bing supplement. An excellent Swiss search engine. This gives very good results. I found no trackers on their site. Donation supported. My rating: **** - This is what I'm currently using to supplement my Cliqz search.
  • Mojeek - British search engine. Their own crawlers. Impressive results. My rating: ****

Privacy using other search engines

Another approach is to strip off all your personal information and then submit your search to some other search engines. This allows you to have private searches, not be tracked, and still make use of the big search engines that large companies are investing in. A potentially good approach.

  • Disconnect search - Gets between you and Bing, Yahoo, or DuckDuckGo to camouflage your searches. It installs a browser add-on to perform the function. My rating: **
  • Startpage  - Uses Google results: Netherlands based, but has US Servers. Ad-supported. Essentially all the benefits of Google without the tracking.My rating: ****
  • Privatelee: uses Google and Bing and shows WOT ratings for safety. It is fast, clean and doesn't show any advertising. It also has power commands. An excellent choice. My rating: ****1/2
  • Searx: Searx is a metasearch engine, aggregating the results of over 70 other search engines while not storing information about its users. It is open source and has many instances around the world to access it. There are lots of configuration options, most notably choosing which search engines you want it to use. Donation supported. There is no advertising or tracking. Clean simple interface. If you choose a lot of search engines, it might take a few seconds longer to return the search. It shows you which engines it got the results from. My rating: *****
  • IxQuick.eu is a private European metasearch engine which doesn't use Google or Yahoo, but does use many other search engines including Gigablast and Yandex. It has been around a long time and gives excellent results. It is audited by Europrise and has earned the European Privacy Seal. My rating: ****
  • Peekier Has its own search engine and gets its results from Bing, but presents them in an interesting fashion, giving you a peek at the results with website card results. Some people will like it, but I've never been particularly happy with Bing results. My rating: ***

So many options, so little time!

I suggest you try a few of these engines and decide which ones work best for you. I am amazed at how good Swisscows, Searx, Mojeek, DuckDuckGo and Qwant are. Others like Privatelee and Startpage are great but since they just pull from Google and/or Bing, that was to be expected. Here's how I experimented with them to find my favorites. I made a Search Engines folder on my bookmarks toolbar and dropped the tabs for those engines in it. Then experimented with them. I described the process in an August 2017 article. I'd also set one of them to be my home page for awhile then moved on.

And my current winner is:

Please understand the way I've phrased this header. I get excited about things I find very cool, but after using them awhile, I can come back to Earth. So far, I've found excellent results and been very happy with Qwant, DuckDuckGo, Swisscows, Startpage, Privatelee and Searx. However, my current favorite by far is Searx. There are a few reasons for this:
  • Open source. The search filtering they use is open for programmers to audit.
  • You get to choose where your search requests go. My normal searx searches query 6 different search engines: Google, Bing, Qwant, DuckDuckGo, Wikipedia and Swisscows, so I'm getting results from all of those engines!
  • It has time filters so I can request results just in the last day, week, month or year.
  • It shows me where it is getting the results from.
  • I've written a more in-depth article about it here.

Further reading


Date: November 2017

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