When it comes to looking something up on the web, most of us default to Googling it—the search engine has become so dominant that it’s now a verb, in the same way that Photoshop is. But using Google for your searches comes with a privacy trade-off.
Google’s business is, of course, based on advertising, and every search you make feeds into the profile of you that it uses to target the ads you see around the web. While Google isn’t telling marketing firms what searches you’re running, it is using those queries to build up a picture of you that ads can be sold against. As such, Google can be a real snoop about collecting all your data and using it to personalize your ads and the search results you get.
There are ways to increase your privacy on Google’s platforms, like using privacy-focused browsers, privacy-focused alternatives to Google Maps, auto-deleting your web history after a certain time period, or simply limiting the amount of data the company collects in the first place by opting out of features like web-based email and location awareness. (And you should know that using your browser’s incognito mode isn’t as sneaky as you think it is.) If you’re serious about getting off the data collection grid, there’s a bevy of other privacy focused search options at your disposal. So if you want to use a search engine that doesn’t keep track of your queries, serve your data to advertisers, or change your search results based on what it thinks you’ll like, you’ve got some options.
The granddaddy of Google alternatives, DuckDuckGo has made private search its raison d’être for more than 15 years. The service is a little harder to recommend these days, after a kerfuffle in 2022 where the company was caught in an apparent partnership with Microsoft that allowed the tech behemoth’s tracking scripts to run unimpeded on the DuckDuckGo browser. After outcry from privacy advocates, DuckDuckGo walked back that stance a few months later, and now says it does indeed block Microsoft’s trackers.
If you can move past that particular ugly duckling, the service is still far more private than Google. DuckDuckGo says it collates information in search results from over 400 sources. It doesn’t draw from Google, but does pull from places like Bing and Wikipedia. What it doesn’t do is personalize search results based on data it collects from users. Like Google, DuckDuckGo displays ads, but they’re not tailored to what it thinks you’ll like based on your search history.
DuckDuckGo can be installed into just about any browser via a browser extension. DuckDuckGo has a full browser available on desktop for Mac and Windows. There are also mobile apps on both iOS and Android that work as browsers while incorporating DuckDuckGo’s search engine.
On the browser and app alike, the service automatically tracks and blocks all the data scraping efforts from the websites you visit. Press the shield button in the browser bar to see what sites have tried to collect your data or track your travels across the web. Another feature blocks trackers and data requests in other apps on your phone. DuckDuckGo says it can’t block certain scripts and trackers on the websites that run them (like Facebook, for example) but tapping that little button quickly lets you know what’s being blocked and what’s not.
The privacy-focused browser extension provider Brave has its own dedicated search engine. The company launched the service in 2021. Like the other services on this list, Brave says its Search product doesn’t track your searches or log your data. It’s impressively comprehensive—as much for its security and privacy as for the results you get.