This guide aims to be the most in-depth resource available on private search engines. For this 2021 update, we’ve examined the best private search engines, discussed how to keep your data safe when searching, and flagged some search engines we think you should avoid.
In today’s world, search engines are a necessity to find what you’re looking for. But the help search engines provide often comes at a price: your privacy.
It is sad to say, but most of the big search engines today serve as data collection tools for advertising companies. They collect your private data and use it to make money with targeted ads. This is a booming industry where your data ends up in the hands of third parties and you are the product.
Here is the information being collected by some of the larger (not private) search engines:
- Source IP address
- User agent
- Unique identifier (stored in browser cookies)
- Search queries
As you may know, the items you enter into a search engine can disclose highly personal information about you. Things like as medical conditions, employment status, financial information, political beliefs, and other private details. This data can be collected, stored, and linked to detailed digital profiles which can even contain your real identity. The only way to ensure that your data is safe is to keep it out of the hands of the data collectors. To do that, you need to use a private search engine.
In this latest iteration of our guide to the best private search engines, we do another deep dive into the world of private search engines, while also covering some FAQs and best practices for keeping your data safe and private. Here’s an overview of what we’ll cover:
- Best private search engines for 2021
- “Private” search engines with ad-tech owners
- How do private search engines make money?
- Are US-based search engines safe?
- How to keep your searches private
- Considerations when choosing a private search engine
All recommendations in this guide are my own opinions based on extensive testing and research.
The best private search engines
Finding the best private search engine for your needs is a subjective process. Your circumstances and goals are unique, meaning there’s no one-size-fits-all. Things to consider include:
- Where is the service based?
- Where does it get its search results?
- Can you run your own instance?
- Are there mobile apps?
In a perfect world, a search engine would give you great results while also respecting your privacy. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world. Any of the private search engines in this guide could be the best solution for you. But you will need to test drive the ones that look the best to you to see which is really the best fit. Before we start, there is one issue you need to be aware of:
Metasearch vs search: Most private search engines are technically metasearch engines. While a search engine crawls the internet and gathers its own results, a metasearch engine pulls its search results from search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yandex.
In this review, the one exception is Mojeek, which is a true crawler-based search engine with its own index (discussed below). There are also a few search engines that fall in the middle by deploying their own crawler, but also pulling results from other search engines.
Note: This list is not necessarily in rank order. Choose the best search engine for you based on your own threat model and unique needs.
Here are the best private search engines:
1. Swisscows – A Switzerland-based private search engine with zero tracking
Swisscows is a Switzerland-based private search engine that does very well with privacy and security. They promise no tracking or data collection, and even have a “Swiss Fort Knox” data center for their server infrastructure. From their website:
- have our own servers and do not work with cloud or third party!
- have our Datacenter in the Swiss Alps – THIS is the safest bunker in Europe!
- have positioned everything geographically outside of EU and US.
Family-Friendly content – One unique aspect of Swisscows is that they are passionate about family-friendly content. As they explain on their about page:
- We promote moral values.
- We hate violence and pornography.
- We promote digital media education.
While some people may not like the fact that Swisscows filters some adult content, others may see this as a great feature, especially those with children.
Because Swisscows does not pass on user data from search requests, they are unable to effectively monetize their service through ad partners, which means they largely rely on donations and sponsorships to maintain operations (sponsors can get a banner ad at the top of results):