A hand holding a magnifying glass in front of a browser tab with a closed eye inside the magnifying glass.

A private search engine is a search engine that doesn’t collect your data and always provides objective and neutral search results. You already know what happens when a search engine doesn’t operate that way. Among other things, collecting search data leads to “I bought one lava lamp, and now I’m drowning in lava lamp ads” anecdotes. But this article focuses on 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 a kind of engine that doesn’t store your personal information and doesn’t track your browsing habits. Here are the private search engine features you should expect:

    • No user data tracking;
    • No user IP address storing;
    • No search history recording;
    • No selling of user data to marketers;
    • No  targeted advertising;
    • User  data anonymization (as some information has to be stored for various functionality purposes);
    • Fully-disclosed funding sources.

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

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

    Why should you use a private search engine?

    A private search engine serves you the most accurate results based only on your search query and not the profile the company has built on you. Google et al maintain that tracking users and targeted ads are a vital part of business. Private search engines claim that it’s unnecessary.

    A search engine’s user profile may contain a lot of data, starting with your search history and going as deep as possible. Such profiles are attractive to advertisers since they may micro-target audiences they think are the most likely ones to buy.

    And since search engines cooperate with advertisers to get money, they may also start tailoring search results to make you buy more. It may not be any more nefarious than basing the new search results on your previous search history. However, this means that you won’t be getting the most objective — or accurate — results every time. A private search engine, on the other hand, will give you a neutral answer. 

    Can you really trust private search engines?

    You can trust private search engines if you conduct due diligence: check their policies and history. The former matters because if they outright state that they will be collecting some data and using it, then you can’t be surprised when/if they do. The latter shows whether they actually abide by their own stated policies, and it can reveal some unsavory business dealings in the past.

    This means that you should check not only what the private search engine claims about itself, but also what the specialist press (focused on IT or privacy or consumer advocacy) says about them.

    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). From the ground up, it was built with privacy in mind, so it doesn’t collect any data about you and gives you organic search results.

    Search is included in the Surfshark One and One+ subscriptions. This means you get the private search engine AND a VPN, an antivirus, a breach alert, and more. This also means that Surfshark Search doesn’t have to be funded through third parties — that’s why it shows no ads or affiliate links. Ever.

    No ads whatsoever
    Lacking extra features
    Developed by a cybersecurity company
    Not free
    Forget ads and tracking
    Use a search engine that does not collect data about you
    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 — that’s how Startpage funds its business — 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 197 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. They’re also currently testing out showing Google results in some countries.

    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, which means you can inspect the source code on github. Plus, 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. On the other hand, they seem to be partnered with Edelcoin cryptocurrency, which may be a downside for you.

    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. YaCy


    YaCy is a decentralized search engine… software! That’s right, YaCy is no mere website you can easily access in your browser. You’ll have to download and install its software to run this baby. But it is open source, so knowledgeable people have a way to check whether it’s as secure as they say.

    The YaCy crawler network is maintained by volunteer nodes that can index the internet for other users. There are also four index servers that hold the search index that may be terabytes large. On the user’s device, only a fairly small record of the index will be held.

    Need to install an app
    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 6 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.

    Search without tracking
    A search engine that doesn’t sell your data


    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. 

    Does incognito or private mode really work?

    Incognito mode works as it deletes the data stored on your device during your incognito/private session. To emphasize, this is only the data stored on your device. It does not — doesn’t have to, doesn’t promise to — keep you private online.

    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: 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.