One Thing To Do Today: Use a privacy focused search engine

TL;DR: Set StartPage or DuckDuckGo as the default search on your browser. Put the other in the bookmarks bar.

Search engines know what we look for, and keep that information. They use it to build a profile to better target ads, although occasionally they offer some settings to tighten things up.  Even if you’re not logged in, each link is coded for tracking. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, all of these companies have been compelled to turn over information.  To avoid having search histories full of hemorrhoid cream and how to use an M80’s misconstrued, use a search engine that emphasizes privacy.

When I picked this topic, I thought the whole post would be a simple fast recommendation to use DuckDuckGo, which has clever features and welcomes community involvement. Yet, turns out, DuckDuckGo is a for profit company that relies on users to simply believe their privacy statement and ignore the fact that the servers are all in the US.  Let me be clear, I’ve heard nothing but nice things about DuckDuckGo and its founder Gabriel Weinberg. However, while the Netherlands based company that runs IxquickStartPage and others is also for-profit, they’ve invited third party auditors to review their processes.  Additionally there is a choice of what servers to connect to. to run traffic over non-US servers. I find the those two extra steps (perhaps falsely) reassuring and have switched to StartPage.

[UPDATE CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: DuckDuckGo, in fact, has servers in multiple locations and routes the traffic through the closest ones. As noted in linked discussions, US citizens may have better legal protections against NSA snooping if they keep their traffic domestic. That said, even with HTTPs, the protection offered by using a no-log search engine is not from serious hardcore realtime traffic snooping. The value of private search is the absence of data stored from individual users to be seized after that fact. Both companies are extremely dedicated to that mission.]

Once you’ve decided which is right for you, change the default search engine for your browser(s).

On a side note for developers, Elasticsearch and Solr seem to be the leaders in the open source (PDF) seach-server-as-service market. We’ll be experimenting with updating this site’s search to ElasticPress.  The Apache Lucene search engine appears at the heart of most open source search servers. Other progeny include Open Search ServerOpen Semantics Search and Sphinx.



I make things that do stuff. The best, though, is teaching others to do the same. Founder of @crashspacela Alum of @ITP_NYU

2 thoughts on “One Thing To Do Today: Use a privacy focused search engine

  • December 7, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    Hi @Carlyn – One little note about the two search engines you mention is that they are so-called meta search engines – they are private and delivers a good service, but are relying heavily on third parties to show results.

    Working in the very narrow field of real private search engines, I have all kind of respect for the work the guys at DDG and SP are doing. – But I just need to let you know that our team @Privacore are working hard to get our private open source search engine into open beta. We took the full step and are creating an independent European Search Engine.

    Right now we run a closed beta, but feel free to have look behind the scenes in our search engine lab, although we still are a little short of results, you’ll get the idea.

    • December 19, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      Thank you so much for the information!


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