Anonymous Search Engines - 3 Alternatives to Google

Julia P. Manzau

Like Xerox, Google's popularity has ushered in linguistic changes, coming to be used in everyday speech as a synonym for searching online. There's no denying that Google dominates the digital world like few others, however, criticism has grown over recent years for what some see as its overly aggressive data collection policies. More bluntly, Google doesn't respect its users' anonymity, regularly spying on them. This is understandable considering that around 3.8 million search queries are made per minute, turning Google's search engine into a money printer. 

According to Statista, around 62% of all Internet searches made in the US in 2020 were with Google, compared to 25% for second-placed Microsoft Sites. Greater privacy and data protection are just two areas where Google doesn't do all that well. Other search engines offer additional features or focus on catering to specific types of content or sites.

With that in mind, we took a closer look at three anonymous search engines, DuckDuckGo, Startpage, and Qwant, to find out what they have to offer, what they specialize in, and how good their results are.

DuckDuckGo

More relevant search results and fewer ads were what Gabriel Weinberg had in mind when he launched DuckDuckGo in 2008. However, the search engine never made as huge an impact as Google, remaining instead a hot tip amongst netizens interested in preserving their digital privacy.

Google's unending appetite for ever more data has seen DuckDuckGo enjoy a boom in popularity recently, profiting from its provision of greater anonymity, and racking up 100 million search requests per year. Its number of users has also doubled over the past year as well.

No Filters

What's particularly attractive about DuckDuckGo is that it doesn't save its users' IP addresses, collect information, or create protocols about them. Cookies are also kept to a minimum. The search engine does finance itself through ads, however, these are based on search terms, not user profiling.

This approach to data protection means that all search results are related to what you search for, and not your profile. In contrast, Google filters the results you're given based on how you've behaved in the past, what you've searched for, and what you've clicked on.

DuckDuckGo also encrypts every search query using perfect forward secrecy, a highly secure encryption process.

DuckDuckGo provides search results in a well-structured and clear manner, putting a premium on user data protection and privacy.

Even though DuckDuckGo promises its users anonymity, it's important to remember that the service is based in Paoli, Pennsylvania, meaning that the company, like all American firms, is subject to the USA PATRIOT Act. Should a part of the Federal Government, such as the FBI or NSA request your data, DuckDuckGo won't be able to say no. Beyond that, the search engine does receive partner provisions from Amazon and eBay, signaling that it saves searches, even if they're anonymous. 

What Is DuckDuckGo Capable Of?

Pretty much everything that Google can. The search engine has a clear user interface with few ads, which can be turned off in the configuration settings. Search results are presented clearly on one side of the screen, and you can open them with a single click.

You can personalize DuckDuckGo via the settings.

In addition to text searches, you can also look for images, videos, news, and maps, filtering results on the basis of when they were created as well as excluding mature content. DuckDuckGo also has an interesting feature called Bangs, which are shortcuts that take you to search results on other sites like Amazon or Facebook. If you enter !amazon tv, for example, you'll be taken directly to Amazon's listing of TVs. All the same, as soon as you enter that site, your anonymity disappears.

Search engines are only as good as the index, or searchable keyword collection, that they use. In this area, DuckDuckGo is well-positioned, using Yandex's and Bing's indices, as well as DuckDuckBot to crawl the Internet.

Anonymous searches.

Protects your privacy.

Clearly structured.

Poor search result quality.

Based in the US.

Anonymously saves your searches.

Startpage

Startpage can trace its roots back to 1998 when it was known as Ixquick. Renamed in 2006, the search engine managed by The Hague-based Startpage B.V. is the most discrete in the world. Since 2019, the company has been owned by the US Privacy One Group. As such, it remains to be seen whether Startpage will remain as committed to data protection and privacy as it has to date.

In contrast to Google, Startpage doesn't record its users' IP addresses, their searches, or their browser. The search engine also encrypts each request, meaning that no other websites will be able to monitor your surfing behavior. European requests are routed exclusively through servers based in Europe.

Startpage uses Google's search index, providing high-quality results as a result. The search engine impresses with its high level of discretion and data privacy, however, has recently been purchased by a US company.

Even though Startpage generates revenue through advertisements, the company refrains from targeted or personalized ads. Like DuckDuckGo, ads are only based on your current search.

The search engine is uncomplicated and without frills, while results can be filtered by type, date, or region.

Google, but Without Snooping

Startpage is capable of doing everything that Google is, and all without being nosy or filtering. The search engine uses Google's index, meaning that its results are as good as Google's, with all requests kept anonymous so that Google can't follow what you've done.

Users can also open pages anonymously through a proxy server, which works similarly to a VPN or Tor-Browser, concealing your IP address as well as other information that could identify you.

Using "Anonymous View" you can visit websites anonymously.

One disadvantage is that you won't receive local search results, since Startpage doesn't monitor your location. Startpage also doesn't offer maps like Google Maps, making it necessary to use another provider for navigation to a specific location.

Anonymous searches.

Offers considerable data protection.

Google-quality search results.

Sold to a US company; uncertain developments.

Qwant

For more color, look no further than Qwant, a French search engine that has been on the market since 2013. The service promises to completely protect its users' privacy. Originally the search engine du jour of France, Qwant has enjoyed greater attention outside of the country as well.

Qwant doesn't save its users' search information, cookies, or identify or follow them.

Qwant is a colorful search engine with plenty of ambition. Searches are comfortable, the service offers strict data protection, and its results are competitive.

Any search engine which wants to pass itself off as anonymous needs to provide unfiltered content in a random order without relying on a search profile. Although all three providers we've assessed here do that, only Qwant uses its own search index and has invested heavily in it, ensuring that it provides high-quality results.

Like the other two services, Qwant is primarily financed through ads, the relevance of which depends on user searches.

Special Service for Children

Qwant doesn't only offer classic Internet searches, but also a search engine designed for 6-12-year-olds, Qwant Junior.

Qwant Junior, Qwant's search engine for kids, is even more colorful.

With this, the company clearly wants to offer a possibility for minors to discover the Internet in a safe and controlled manner. You'll find fairy tales, stories, learning videos, and news for kids. For those who create a user account with their parent's permission, games, learning, and hobbies can also be accessed, albeit, to date, only in French.

According to the company, in 2020, they had 5 million monthly visitors.

Provides significant data protection and privacy.

Special search engine for children.

Own search index which returns good results.

Focused on French users.

Alternatives

Along with the three we've examined above, there are plenty of other anonymous search engines on the market. Two of the most interesting of these are swisscows and Ecosia. As its name suggests, the first comes from Switzerland and states "We DO NOT store your data!" Specifically, this includes your IP address, browser and device information, as well as searches.

The search engine indexes the Internet and also uses its own servers, well-protected in bunkers deep in the Swiss Alps. Swisscows is financed through donations and sponsors, the latter of which show up in unobtrusive banners. In addition, the service is planning an IPO.

The provider values family-friendliness, not listing any adult or mature content.

Do Something Good With Your Search

Berlin-based Ecosia promises to help the environment with each search. According to the company's releases, its servers are powered by renewable energy, with most income generated through its ads financing reforestation efforts.

Want to help the environment with your searches? Then check out Ecosia.

Ecosia was founded by Christian Kroll, who spent a considerable amount of time in Nepal and South America, witnessing ecological problems first-hand. As a result, he moved to do something, developing a green search engine.

The search engine invests most revenue from its sponsors and ads in reforestation efforts, with around 45 search requests equaling a new tree.

Ecosia has come into criticism for its activism, following its decision to place factory icons next to businesses accused of being major "climate sinners". The search engine temporarily saves requests, only anonymizing them after a week. Ecosia doesn't have its own search index, using Bing's instead.

Conclusion

When it comes to anonymous search engines, you shouldn't only be sure that they protect your data and privacy, but also that the search results returned are relevant and of a certain quality. Considering all of the above, Startpage is the best alternative to Google, however, it remains to be seen what its recent takeover by a US parent company will mean.

DuckDuckGo is also a solid alternative, even though as a US-based company, its need to adhere to the USA PATRIOT Act is incontestable, preventing 100% anonymity.

Qwant rounds out our list of the three best Google alternatives. The French provider doesn't only emphasize data protection but has also developed its own search index.

Overall, there are plenty of powerful alternatives to Google for anyone who values anonymity and data protection. Of course, you will have to unlearn your experiences with Google and make a few adjustments.

Author: Julia P. Manzau
Julia P. Manzau has more than 30 years of professional experience in leading editorial and marketing positions in the premium automotive, mechanical engineering, and healthcare industries. She studied Political Science and History in Bonn, Marketing at the St. Galler Business School and earned a BA in Media Engineering (CCI). Since 2015, she has worked as a freelance writer. For EXPERTE.com, she focuses on software, the Internet, and marketing.
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