The search for something better…
It was my senior year in high school. My British Literature teacher, Mrs. Sibley recommended that my class use a new search engine. It had a funny name, Google. It was a blank white page with just a colorful logo and a search box. In a world where all search engines — Lycos, Yahoo! Ask Jeeves — were so cluttered with distractions and often did not return great results, Google was a breath of fresh air.
Since its subtle beginnings, Google has grown into an Internet powerhouse. Its revolutionary approach, mysterious algorithms, and overall success has forced other search engines to adapt and change the way they work.
Hardly anyone has never heard of Google or are familiar with at least some of their online tools. (They own YouTube, after all.) I used Google as my primary search engine for many, many years. When Gmail was first released on a limited trial basis, I snatched up an account as quickly as I could. I use Google Drive personally and professionally. All of my websites utilize Google Analytics.
But it is 2020. Privacy is a huge concern, and GDPR is in full force.
Google is so big and collecting so much data on its users that there have been legitimate concerns regarding how that data is being used and by whom. Bing, Yahoo! and Ask.com are familiar competitors of Google, but many users are wondering if there are other search engines out there that offer more privacy.
Search engines that value privacy
The good news is… Yes! There are actually a ton of private search engines out there, but the trick is knowing where to look.
For your convenience, I have gathered a short-list of five alternative search engines and knowledge engines. Each has something unique that sets them apart from the competition. Without further ado, let’s get started!
If you want privacy and appreciate an open platform, then Searx.me might be a good match for you. The way Searx works is compiling results from other search engines without storing any information on you, the user.
The cool thing is that Searx allows you to pick and choose where you want your search results to come from. They also claim to be a “free software, the code is 100% open and you can help to make it better”. If you are techie or Internet savvy, Searx might be a good choice.
DuckDuckGo not only has a clean, minimal homepage, but it is straightforward tagline is: “The search engine that doesn’t track you”. This is currently one of the most popular private search engines, and for good reason. Their claims include:
- using encrypted connections when available to protect your data from prying eyes
- not tracking your browser history (ever)
- blocking advertisers from tracking you on the sites you visit
They even offer extensions to your browser to make searching easier. If privacy is your primary concern, DuckDuckGo might be the search engine for you.
Though it may look like one, WolframAlpha is actually not a search engine. According to its website, it is a “unique engine for computing answers and providing knowledge”.
Why include it if it is not a search engine? Because WolframAlpha is an excellent option for students. Instead of relying on the questionable results of a traditional search engine, which are gleaned from millions of unverified websites, WolframAlpha answers questions through analysis and generating reports based off a vast store of expert-level knowledge and algorithms.
Have a question in Algebra? No problem! Chemistry? History? Personal finance? Gotcha covered. Need demographics and statistics? They have that, too. Not sure what to look for? You can browse examples by topic.
Just remember to phrase your inquiries in a factual manner, using language like what, when, where, and how many. So if you are a student or a teacher, this may be a great tool for homework and research.
Swisscows is a search engine based in Switzerland and partners with Bing. They do not store IP addresses, tracking cookies, or user queries.
Swisscows is the efficient alternative for anyone who attaches great importance to data integrity and the protection of privacy. Contrary to search engines, users at Swisscows don’t leave any tracks. Swisscows even does without countless analyses of their visitors. Their topics, IP addresses and personal information, are not stored or used for any additional business. [Source]
Unlike other private search engines, Swisscows also touts itself as “family-friendly and child-friendly”. I reached out to them via social media to ask for more clarification on just what this means in a practical sense for users, and their response was:
For us, user privacy is our vocation. We do not store any user data, so the User is anonymous in Swisscows.
Other important aspect is: protection for children, adolescents and for some adults. Children and young people now use the internet more than adults, so they need to be more protected. We have decided not to display all pornographic and violent data. Swisscows is therefore recognised as child-friendly.
Another thing: we are convinced Christians and want to support the values that should be worthwhile for a family. We are against surveillance, pornography and violence.
I hope we’ve been able to help you.
By the way, we have a brochure “Digital Media Education” which is now in German but will soon be in English. https://swisscows.ch/media-education
So if you have children and teenagers at home, Swisscows may be the ideal search engine for your family.
Ecosia is another search engine with a clean user interface and my current favorite. When you set it as your browser’s homepage, it will display your frequently visited pages underneath the search box. What makes Ecosia unique is that they use the profit they make from your searches to plant trees where they are needed most. In fact, they have a mission to plant 1 billion trees by 2020! How does it work?
A click on one of the search ads appearing above and next to Ecosia’s search results generates revenue for Ecosia, which is paid by the advertiser. Ecosia then uses at least 80% of its monthly profits to plant trees in Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Peru, Indonesia, Morocco, Brazil, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Tanzania and many more countries.
Even if you use an ad blocker or never click on ads, you still contribute to the movement by increasing the number of Ecosia users. The more monthly active users Ecosia has, the more relevant it becomes to advertisers. [Source]
With the cool interactive map, you can see where trees funded by Ecosia have been planted. In an act of transparency, they also publicly share their monthly financial reports.
For the privacy conscious, Ecosia also claims that they do not sell user data to advertisers nor do they use third-party trackers. So, when you use Ecosia, not only do you get the privacy you desire but you are helping the environment at the same time!
What search engine do you use? Share in the comments below!