Privacy is now at the forefront of people’s minds.
There is no easier way of protecting your privacy than using a private search engine and a VPN.
A private search engine is a search engine that does not harvest your data and/or track the sites that you have visited.
What does the term private search engine mean?
The term refers to a search engine that doesn’t harvest information about the user and/or the user’s movements.
These search engines have emerged over the last few years as a direct response to the increasing monitoring performed by Google and Microsoft (bing).
It can be argued that the term did not exist until recently as previously all search engines were private.
How safe are private search engines?
Private search engines protect your search information.
However, once you make a selection in the search engine and navigate to the destination, this information is not private and visible to your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and anybody else who is tracking you.
Is a private search engine the same as a VPN?
These are not the same. The ideal security combination is to use both of these technologies together.
What Is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.
A VPN is a group of computers networked together over the internet.
When you connect to a VPN, your computer exchanges trusted keys with a server.
Once both computers have verified each other as authentic, all of your communication from that point on is encrypted and secured from eavesdropping.
So simply put a VPN ensures all data from your computer’s internet connection is encrypted and indecipherable to the outside world.
As you can imagine this is very important and essential to your privacy.
To understand more about VPNs and my recommendations when choosing one read the article on our website.
Why should I use a private search engine?
Despite living in an increasing surveillance state, it seems most people when asked don’t like to be tracked and monitored.
This dislike of tracking and monitoring extends to their search engine usage.
It is also a little known fact that there have been instances where your Google search information can be used against you in legal cases, even in civil cases like divorces.
One of the most famous cases (in the UK) was concerning the stabbing of a schoolboy called Bailey Gwynne.
Days before the event the accused googled the words “How to get rid of someone annoying”.
This was not the only piece of damming evidence but it did contribute to the accused receiving a sentence of nine years for culpable homicide.
Sometimes, the evidence used might not even be directly related but in the hands of a prosecuting attorney can be twisted to look like the actions of a guilty person.
An example is the case of Ross Harris who searched “how long it takes an animal to die in a hot car” a month before his son died in the same way.
A month is a long time (in terms of the number of searched items) and this could be argued to be coincidental.
Regardless, this was used against Ross Harris in his case.
If all this is all new information for you, then you might be compelled to delete all your search history.
This is possible within the google settings and configuration.
However……please note investigators can and have recovered deleted searches. In fact, in recent cases, the very fact that these searches were deleted has been used as an admittance of guilt.
All this begs the question, do you want all your google history to be accessible and possibly used against you?
What does the Google search engine track?
Even if the information above does not concern you, then you might still be surprised to discover what Google (and Microsoft Bing) store about you and your activities.
The main source of information when using google search is cookies.
Cookies are small snippets of text put on the users hard drive.
Once there, the web site will use this information to understand what if anything happened last time you visited.
Cookies are problematic as they in their raw format are useful, they allow sites to understand where you have come from and act accordingly.
Therefore you will not be prompted constantly for a password which is great. Also if you go back to a site after you have left it, you will still have the desired items in the shopping cart.
Another useful application is storing the details of your language and currency so on returning to the site it doesn’t ask the same location-based questions.
Another typical scenario featuring cookies is this. You login to Facebook. Facebook will automatically install a cookie.
Now, you leave Facebook and navigate to another completely unrelated site. However…..this site has a Facebook ‘like’ button.
Even if you don’t like the ‘other’ website, Facebook now knows that you visited this page and will amend the content and the adverts on Facebook when you return to it.
As well as the primary site tracking your movements across the web (using first-party cookies), there are also advertising cookies, these are known as third party cookies.
Third-party cookies are very popular with advertisers. They track you through ALL your browsing and start to model and understand the user’s behavior and build a user profile.
It then shares this user profile with other advertisers to allow tailored adverts or ‘targeted ads’.
For this reason, the cookies are often referred to as “tracking cookies” and “targeted cookies”.
What is the most secure and private search engine?
Now armed all this information, you might like me start to gravitate to the idea of using a private search engine.
But which are the best ones?
There are now countless private search engines, with new ones cropping up each day.
However, please see below, my top five in order.
MetaGer is an open search engine and it ticks two important boxes.
First of all maturity, lots of private search engines come and go but this one has been around since 1996 so seems this one is here to stay.
Secondly is financing. This is a biggie as search engines cost a lot of money to run and if the answer isn’t clear then we must assume the answer is advertising or worse still, selling your data.
Luckily, with MerGer, this is clear as it’s financed by a non-profit foundation in Germany called SUMA-EV (Association for Free Access to Knowledge).
MG uses a combination of Bing, Yandex, Yahoo and others, as well as having its own web crawler. I found in my tests that it brought back good results.
An additional feature that impressed me was the Proxy viewing options “open anonymously”.
This feature uses changes the search requests into anonymous queries through a proxy server, which also provides the anonymous viewing option for all results.
Lastly, for browsers who use the Tor network, MetaGer also hosts a .onion site which allows the users to quickly switch between the clear web and the dark web.
Swisscows as the name might suggest is a search engine based in Switzerland.
Not only have they chosen to base themselves outside of the EU and US (and subsequently not subject to their laws and/or legal requests for information) they have placed all their servers in the “Swiss Fort Knox” data centre.
They have repeatedly stated that they do not collect any information about the user.
They have stated that “The only information we store is the number of search requests entered daily at Swisscows, to measure the total overall traffic on our website and to evaluate a breakdown of this traffic by language and mere overall statistics.”
Regarding the actual searching, the results are primarily sourced from Bing.
One divisive aspect of this search engine is their focus (apart from anonymity) is on Family-Friendly content.
Some critics argue that it is not the search engine’s remit to involve itself in filtering results.
However, many family-oriented users have praised the move knowing that they can trust their children to use this search engine.
Mojeek is unlike the other search engines listed here as it has its own crawler.
This is an attempt to completely distance itself from the big search engines such as Google and Bing.
Mojeek claims to indexed over 2.3 billion pages so it should still provide accurate results.
As you would expect from a search engine positioning itself for people who want to move away from the big names, it also values privacy and has stated that it does not log any information about the user.
Mojeek is based in the UK.
This is another private search engine that does everything well and is growing in popularity.
It is based in France and in that country is now in the top 50 websites.
This shows to what extent the idea of private search engines is now entering into the public consciousness.
This is a company that has gone on record stating that they do not put a single cookie on the users computer.
It also has publicly declared that does not record any IP information.
Any discussion regarding private search engines is not complete without mentioning DuckDuckGo.
This is the biggest name in private search engines and the first name anyone thinks of.
DuckDuckGo is based in the US and was founded by Gabriel Weinberg in 2008.
So why is the biggest name in private search engines lagging in the fifth spot?
After some in-depth research, I found that although the search results were one of the best (it uses a combination of Wikipedia, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo) it does save the searches.
It has stated that “We also save searches, but again, not in a personally identifiable way, as we do not store IP addresses or unique User agent strings.”
Another fly in the ointment is that it finances itself using advertisements and affiliates.
In fact, recently DuckDuckGo has partnered with Amazon and eBay as affiliates.
The final nail in the coffin is that DuckDuckGo runs on Amazon servers in the US.
As the whole objective when moving away from the big search engines is to regain some anonymity, it seems all the above does, in my opinion, put DuckDuckGo in last place.
Private search engines are essentially to maintain our privacy when online.
Any of the five mentioned in this article will contribute massively towards your overall internet security.
However, do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Although a private search engine will protect your searches once you select a link, your connection to that site and anything that you do on that site is visible.
The solution is a VPN which when used with the private search engine provides a complete comprehensive secure anonymous solution.
To find out more about VPNs and the best ones to use, read this article.
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