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 Ixquick, StartPage 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).
- How to switch the default search on Chrome
- How switch the default search on Firefox
- For Safari StartPage requires installing an extension but DuckDuckGo is on the preinstalled list.
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 Server, Open Semantics Search and Sphinx.