Private search engines

When you use a search engine like Google, you don’t expect it to be collecting information about you. But that’s exactly what happens with every query and every search

Among other things, this data collection leads to the “I bought one lava lamp, and now I’m drowning in lava lamp ads” cases. But there are search engines that don’t track you and we’re reviewing some of the best.

Table of contents

    What is a private search engine?

    A private search engine is one that doesn’t track you. They’re expected to have the following features:

    • Don’t track user data;
    • Don’t store your IP address;
    • Don’t store your search history;
    • Don’t sell your data to marketers;
    • Don’t offer targeted advertising;
    • Anonymize your data (as some information has to be stored for various functionality purposes);
    • Disclose funding sources. 

    Anything beyond that is a benefit, though the most common ones are:

    • Map functionality;
    • Google-like search results page;
    • Browser plug-ins;
    • Dedicated apps;
    • Ways to make it the default search engine. 

    And now, let’s get into our list of the best search engines that won’t leave you feeling watched.

    Top search engines that don’t track you 

    1. DuckDuckGo


    As far as privacy goes, DuckDuckGo is safe to use. In fact, it’s the preferred private search engine for millions of privacy enthusiasts, reaching 100 million daily search queries in 2021. It collects information from around 400 sources (such as Bing) as well as from its own crawler

    DuckDuckGo is monetized in two ways: via Microsoft Advertising (while still keeping your data safe) and affiliate contracts with eBay and Amazon

    When I tested it, just searching for “cat” or “cats” wasn’t enough to bring up cat food ads. DuckDuckGo also has its own fun features like !Bangs, which immediately leads you to search results on other websites. For example, !w cats would take you straight to the Wikipedia page on cats. 

    Search results often miss obvious stuff
    Lots of users
    Still shows ads
    Has a custom crawler
    Good additional features
    1. Surfshark Search

    Surfshark Search

    Surfshark Search is a search engine by Surfshark (that’s us unless you’re somehow reading this post on some other blog, in which case I’m flattered they stole it). It’s a search engine built with privacy in mind, so it doesn’t collect any data about you and gives you organic search results. 

    The only teeny-tiny downside is that it only comes with a Surfshark One subscription (though we’re certain that it’s a good product to own). On the other hand, this means that Surfshark Search doesn’t have to be funded through third parties and shows no ads or affiliate links. Ever.

    Forget ads and tracking

    Use Surfshark Search
    No ads whatsoever
    Lacking extra features
    Developed by a cybersecurity company
    Not free
    1. Startpage


    Startpage traces its roots back to 2006 (or even 1998 if Wikipedia is to be believed), which is fairly old as far as search engines are concerned. It’s headquartered in the Netherlands (just like one other company whose blog you may be reading right now) and thus operates under stringent Dutch and EU privacy laws.

    Their other selling point is Google. Unlike many alternative search engines, Startpage uses Google’s search engine while at the same time anonymizing the search request. That’s why your search experience will be similar to Google, including ads. Startpage funds its business by showing ads, but they’re contextual rather than targeted.

    Uses anonymized Google results
    Still shows ads
    Beholden to EU privacy laws
    Established presence
    1. Ecosia


    Carbon offsets — kind of whack. However, Ecosia isn’t in the business of pretending to care about the environment by maybe planting a tree now and then. It’s a private search engine that donates 80% of its profits to tree-planting programs.

    Ecosia claims that it has planted over 140 million trees at this point impressive for a search engine funded entirely by ad partnerships. According to the project, a single search brings in, on average, half a Euro cent. For added transparency, Ecosia hosts a load of reports and data on how their tree-planting efforts are going on their site. 

    On the less exciting end, Ecosia draws search results from Microsoft Bing (also their ad partner) enhanced with its own algorithm.

    Look at all of them trees
    Still gives you ads
    Very transparent
    Still Bing results, kinda
    Bing results improved by own algorithm
    1. Qwant


    Qwant was launched in France in 2013. It is set apart from other search engines that don’t track you by having its own indexing. This means that it stores and categorizes data in its own way and doesn’t, say, rely on Bing to do it. So if you’re unhappy with the search results that Bing brings up, Qwant will be an improved experience.

    Quant, like many others, is financed via ad deals with Tripadvisor, eBay, and others. It also offers Maps (based on the OpenStreetMap project) and Junior, a search engine version calibrated for 6-12-year-olds.

    Has its own indexing
    Financed by ads
    Offers features like kid-friendly search
    Some project information only available in French
    OpenStreetMap integration
    1. Gibiru


    Launched in 2009, Gibiru is certainly a privacy search engine very little is known about it otherwise. It uses Google search results but with a twist! 

    You can choose to see “censored” results for your searches, meaning it’s stuff that Google chooses not to show you. Other than that, it’s funded by commissions (when users buy something or place a call to action), offers its own VPN (Virtual Private Network) service, and has Android and iOS apps.

    Builds on Google search results
    Little is known about the project
    Censored search
    1. Searx


    Searx is a bit different from other search engines here. It’s openly a metasearch engine, gathering results from 83 other sources (including Qwant and Startpage). Secondly, it was made by massive privacy nerds, and, as such, there’s no central Searx page: anyone can run a public instance. And the instances are a necessity since Google has started blocking some of them.

    You can set some preferences for the search engines, which will be stored on a cookie on your device rather than anywhere else. You can also use specific commands that allow you to draw results from a single specific engine rather than all of them.

    Collates results from many sources
    Independent public instances are of variable quality
    No central hub that could be taken down
    You can run your own public instance
    1. Swisscows


    Swisscows resides in Switzerland, with a server-based in Mount10 AG secure bunker (seriously, that’s what their marketing material says). They claim that their searches are faster thanks to their company’s semantic indexing system. Like most entries on this list, it’s financed by Bing ads. 

    Another thing Swisscows prides itself on is being a family-friendly search engine, immediately omitting any sexually explicit content. The rest is the usual fare: no user profiles, data anonymization within a week, no transfer to third parties, and so on.

    Semantic indexing for speed gains
    You may want those family-unfriendly results
    Bing ads
    1. MetaGer


    MetaGer is positively ancient, having been launched in 1996. A cooperation between a German organization promoting media literacy and the University of Hannover, it’s a metasearch engine with a view to transparency and privacy. Also, its infrastructure is powered by solar- and hydropower. 

    The source code of MetaGer is freely available for anyone to root around in. They’re also fairly open about how their system ranks pages for search results, including how they remove pages they’re legally obliged to or ones that look badly made or provide blatant misinformation.

    They admit to removing results, which is a balancing act
    The source code is available for inspection
    1. Search Encrypt

    Search Encrypt

    The name gives it all away when it comes to Search Encrypt. It’s a search engine that encrypts your searches. On top of that, it does not keep your data, cookies, or cache, and all of your activity gets completely wiped off after 30 minutes of inactivity. As a result, it is one of the best search engine options for privacy.

    As with most others on this list, Search Encrypt shows contextual ads to fund their activity. The results you get are retrieved from a number of search partners rather than a single search engine, and you can access Search Encrypt through their website or a Chrome extension.

    Does not store data
    Still shows ads
    Deletes your history after a period of inactivity
    Uses secure encryption for your searches
    1. Mojeek


    Mojeek is another great private search engine for the environmentally conscious. Instead of using results from other engines, Mojeek has its own crawler with over 5 billion pages indexed to date. As with all others on this list, Mojeek does not track you or store data about your searches.

    The company hosts its servers in Custodian, a data center known for only using renewable energy, as well as other “green” initiatives. They do their best to do what’s right, both when it comes to your privacy and the environment. They also offer customizable searches and a mobile app to provide you with the best searching experience they can.

    Mojeek gets its funding by running ads and exploring other revenue sources, such as partnerships and APIs.

    Environmentally friendly
    Shows ads
    Has its own crawler
    Smaller search index compared to biggest search engines
    Doesn’t track user data
    Customizable searches
    1. Disconnect Search

    Disconnect Search

    If you’re looking for a private alternative to Google, why not choose one that was created by ex-Google employees? It does not have its own crawler; in fact, it does not even run your searches itself. You can simply use the Disconnect extension to protect your searches on all platforms, including the likes of Google and Bing.

    The extension runs your searches through their servers, encrypts them, and does not keep any information about your activity. In a way, it’s similar to a VPN but only protects your search queries, while a VPN protects the entirety of your internet traffic.

    Blocks ads
    Does not have its own engine
    Encrypts searches
    Only works through an extension
    Doesn’t store information
    1. Brave Search

    Brave Search

    As you may be able to guess from the name, Brave Search is the default search engine for the Brave browser, but you can access it through other browsers as well. It has its own indexing but uses results from third-party search engines to try and provide the best results possible.

    Brave Search does not track your activity or store your information. The ads they show are not personalized (although you can apply for the Brave Rewards program and get reward points for being shown targeted ads). Brave also uses private usage metrics by default, but they can be turned off in the settings.

    Doesn’t store data
    Shows ads
    Has its own indexing
    Requires you to go through settings for maximum privacy
    Does not track your activity
    1. Infinity Search

    Infinity Search

    If you’re willing to spend a few bucks for a private and ad-free searching experience, Infinity Search is a great option to go with. It offers a lot of customization while providing results from its own indexing, as well as Wikipedia and Google.

    Since it does not store your data or track your activity, you get completely unlogged results every time you search for anything. If you’re a business owner, Infinity Search also offers private browsing plans for businesses.

    Doesn’t store data
    Is a paid service
    Doesn’t track activity
    Requires registration
    Doesn’t show ads
    Has a lot of customization

    Get the private search engine that’s right for you 

    While Google dominates the search engine scene to an absurd degree, you don’t have to submit to its Orwellian nightmare. As this list shows, alternative search engines exist, and they can help you browse without drowning you in annoying targeted ads or hoovering up your data for sale. And now that you’ve read up on it, you can make an informed choice.

    Use a search engine that doesn’t track you

    Get Surfshark Search


    Is there a search engine that does not track you?

    Yes, there are multiple private search engines that do not track you, like DuckDuckGo, Surfshark Search, and Startpage. 

    What search engine is the most private?

    Nobody really knows which search engine offers the most privacy. Especially when “most private” is a fairly nebulous term when it comes to search engines and determining just how much user data they need to operate. 

    For now, any search engine on our list is good.

    How can I search and not be tracked?

    Here’s how you search without being tracked: 

    1. Use a private search engine;
    2. Use a VPN; 
    3. Use your browser in Incognito mode.  

    What is the downside of DuckDuckGo?

    As someone who uses DuckDuckGo on his phone, I can say that search results do sometimes miss the obvious answers that Google would provide. 

    But that’s the tradeoff: you trade convenience for privacy. 

    Is DuckDuckGo owned by Google/Amazon/China?

    No, DuckDuckGo is owned by Duck Duck Go Inc., an American company. 

    What are the different types of search engines?

    To their core, search engines can be categorized as private or not private. The giants of the industry, such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo, are great at providing search results, but they store your data and track your activity to show targeted ads, which makes them not great for privacy.

    Then there are search engines like DuckDuckGo, Surfshark Search, Startpage, and others, that don’t keep track of your activity, nor do they store your data. Some of them don’t even show ads, and those that do, show ads based on the context of your search rather than your activity. The search results themselves aren’t always as great, but they keep you more private.