Our 7 Best Private Search Engine Recommendations
This post was originally published on 27 APR 2021; it has since been updated and revised.
Are you using Google, Bing, or Yandex? Tired of "biased" search results? Tired of seeing re-targeting ads that follow you around because you've searched for one term just once? Then perhaps you should look into switching your searches to a private search engine.
These are avoidthehack's recommendations for privacy respecting (meta)search engines. There are many alternative search engines out there on the web, but not all of them necessarily have favorable privacy practices.
These search engines aren't listed in any particular order. Often, a specific search engine might be the better tool for a particular query. It's highly encouraged for you to actively try out these search engines for yourself; you might like the results!
- Independent with its own web crawler, MojeekBot
- Doesn't use tracking technology
- Mojeek's search index doesn't use Bing or Google's search indexes
Mojeek is a unique and highly private search engine that has its own web crawler, MojeekBot and maintains its own search index. Plainly speaking, Mojeek "finds" web pages using its own infrastructure - it does not "borrow" from Bing nor Google's search indexes to serve results.
Mojeek doesn't place cookies on your device unless agreed to nor does it implement specific user tracking. Mojeek does log limited information such as time of visit and the page requested; data such as your IP address isn't logged. It's also important to remember that this standard logging data is not tied back to you as it is anonymized.
Searching on Mojeek is a truly unique and independent experience - their search results are unique and totally independent from Bing and Google. In fact, Mojeek is probably the oldest and biggest direct rival to the Big Tech search engines. Mojeek's web crawler, MojeekBot, crawls the web to create Mojeek's search index.
MojeekBot's constant activity means Mojeek's constantly growing its index, indexing millions of pages weekly. The volume of pages indexed allows for more possibilities for relevant search results. If users are unable to find satisfying results for their search query, Mojeek makes it easy to search other indices - straight from their own results page.
Mojeek is based in the UK. Considering the UK is a five-eyes country, this fact may concern some users, but it's important to remember that Mojeek doesn't utilize tracking technologies nor store identifying information such as your IP address.
- Provides results similar to Google's
- Anonymous View allows viewing of websites directly from search results
- Doesn't track or tie your searches back to you
Startpage is a private search engine that provides search results very similar to those would find during a Google search. It accomplishes this by stripping unnecessary metadata from your search and then proxying the search through Google.
Startpage doesn't collect personal data such as your IP addresses nor do they utilize tracking cookies. They also don't log your specific search queries. Interestingly, Startpage has an Anonymous View service, which allows you to visit websites from search results "anonymously."
It's worth mentioning that Startpage was originally founded as an independent company/project circa 2006. As of late 2019, Startpage received a large investment by System1, making System1 the majority investor in the company.
This alarmed many in the privacy community considering System1 is a marketing and analytics firm; however, Startpage has stated that its management team retains all rights and autonomy when it comes to user privacy-related dealings.
- Open source
- Self-hostable, full control of your own instance
- Can aggregate results from other search engines, minus the tracking and logging
SearX is an open source metasearch engine. SearX is that its open source and allows you to self-host your own instance for a truly private search experience.
When self-hosting a SearX instance, you have the power to tweak a myriad of settings. Most notably, you can choose whether to mix your search results with others to create more "accurate" searches.
For those not interested in self-hosting a SearX instance, there is a list of public instances available for you to take advantage of.
Be forewarned when using public SearX instances though; they're anonymous to the user (read: you). This means that you'll have to trust whoever is running any public instance you're using because in theory a shady public instance could store, log, sell, or otherwise abuse your search information without your knowledge.
- Open source
- Self-hostable, aims to be easier to deploy than SearX
- Pulls results from Google's index, minus the privacy-unfriendly tracking and logging
Whoogle is an open source and self-hostable search engine that proxies Google search results - minus the tracking technologies of course.
Whoogle shares many similarities with SearX, however Whoogle is designed to be deployed easier and quicker than SearX. Unlike SearX though, Whoogle appears to only use Google's search results as of writing.
There are a handful of public instances of Whoogle out there. Again, similar to SearX instances, you should be aware that there is no way to validate instances.
- Has its own web crawler
- Independent index featuring fallback indexing from other search indexes such as Google or Bing
- Claims to not rely on algorithms to serve biased/censored results
Brave Search is an independent search engine brought into existence by the same company behind the Brave Browser. Of the other private search engines listed on this post, Brave Search is the new kid on the block, partially made possible by Brave Software's acquisition of the Tailcat search engine.
Similar to Mojeek, Brave Search does not use Google's or Bing's search indices, therefore its search results are independent of Google's and Bing's. However, in the event that a query doesn't produce "good" results, Brave Search will check Bing for server-side fallback mixing. Meaning, Brave will "fallback" to some of Bing's search results when its not confident in its own.
Brave Search doesn't track users, searches, or queries. It aims to be a "user-first" private search engine
Additionaly, Brave Search doesn't "filter, downrank, or censor search results" nor does it "change its search algorithm" in response to current events or other biases that may include political, religious, and ethical beliefs.
Currently, as of writing, Brave Search is in beta.
- Primarily sources results from Bing
- Doesn't log personally identifiable information
DuckDuckGo has a search agreement with Microsoft, allegedly allowing Microsoft to tracker users while using some of DuckDuckGo's other products, such as their DuckDuckGo browser. While this search engine is certainly better than using Google or Bing, it is advised to use this search engine with discretion.
Founded circa 2008, DuckDuckGo is a private metasearch engine based in the US. It's perhaps the most popular private search engine among privacy-conscious users - and it year after year, it picks up more ground as people not familiar with the privacy space look for alternatives Google and Bing.
DuckDuckGo pulls from over 400 different sources, but most of the time it pulls results from Bing's search index.
- Metasearch engine primarily sourcing results from Bing
- Ran by a non-profit
- Displays what search index results were pulled from
MetaGer is an open source metasearch engine run by a nonprofit. The non-profit and the search engine's entire infrastructure is based in Germany.
MetaGer can query up to 50 different search engines to return results. However, it does appear to serve a lot of results from Bing's and Yandex's respective search indices.
MetaGer does not store any private data nor does this private search engine engage in tracking activities. Searches are routed through a proxy and therefore made anonymous when MetaGer makes its queries to the different engines.
Criteria for private search engine recommendations
At a minimum, to be listed as a recommendation on avoidthehack, private search engines must:
Not log personal identifiable information (PII)
Specifically, the services must not log PII in an effort to connect searches with user profiles or online identities.
Preferably, what PII is logged would be deleted in a reasonable time frame or anonymized so that it is no longer PII. Whatever is logged should not be used in efforts to identify users or track searches.
Not use tracking technology
Private search engines should not use tracking technology to:
- Serve targeted and/or re-targeted ads
- Permit third-party trackers
- Create user-profiles - connect searches with who is searching
- Request unsolicited permissions (such as user location)
Be out of alpha/beta stages
Many search engine beta programs are invite only or "closed." Recommendations provided here should be open for most people to use.
Don't underestimate the purpose a search engine serves; for a vast amount of users, search engines literally function as their gateways to the Internet. Private search engines do that while respecting your privacy as a user; some go a step further in serving "unbiased" results.
However, the search engines run by Big Tech are notorious for serving profiled and biased content, often referred to as filter bubbles, leveraging large amounts of collected personal data. Additionally, Big Tech thoroughly tracks users, connecting their searches to their identities and creating profiles from all that gathered data; they often turn around and sell this data to 3rd parties, which very frequently include advertisers.
Naturally, private search engines don't engage in this type of invasive behavior. The recommendations provided here are generally highly private search engines that enable you to search the web independently and freely. Feel free to view our Private Search Engines page to read up more on the why you should use a private search engine.
With that said happy private searching and stay safe out there!