search

Searching online

Are you sure your online search does not leave any traces?

If you want to search online for something, most probably you will be tracked.

That is why we should pay attention to the resources we usually use.

We have noticed a growth in some search engine projects based on privacy compliance. We do not intend to describe the technical aspects of search engines or those related to privacy, but we plan to offer a list of those resources that we found most interesting.

We underline that everyone should know that their privacy could be at risk doing an online search. Indeed, search engines collect information related to the research subject and data and metadata like IP address, time, date, geolocation, etc.

However, we want to bring to your attention that there are private search engines or private metasearch engines that respect privacy.

From our experience, we focus today on the following ten resources:

  1. DuckDuckGo
  2. SearXNG
  3. YaCy
  4. Brave search
  5. Startpage
  6. Gibiru
  7. Metager
  8. Mojeek
  9. Qwant
  10. Swisscows
  11. Presearch

You can find our conclusions at the end of this contribution.


DuckDuckGo


DDG


  • Founder: Gabriel Weinberg in 2008
  • Jurisdiction: 
  • Kind:
    • Search engine: DuckDuckGo is a search engine
  • Kind of search:
    • Private search
  • Privacy Policy:
  • 14 Eyes:
    • Yes
  • Note:
    DuckDuckGo in their privacy policy declares:
    - DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information.
    - DuckDuckGo is an Internet privacy company that empowers you to seamlessly take control of your personal information online, without any tradeoffs. With our roots as the search engine that doesn’t track you, we’ve expanded what we do to protect you no matter where the Internet takes you.
    - We also save searches, but again, not in a personally identifiable way, as we do not store IP addresses or unique User agent strings. We use aggregate, non-personal search data to improve things like misspellings.


Brave


  • Founder: Brendan Eich and Brian Bondy - 2015
  • Jurisdiction: 
    • USA - Brave 580 Howard St. Unit 402, San Francisco, CA 94105
    • Europe: - Brave EU Nominated Representative - Care of Castlebridge - Unit 7, 12 Mountjoy Square, - Dublin 1 - Ireland
  • Kind:
    • Search engine: in June 2022 Brave Search ended its beta stage and was fully released.
  • Kind of search:
    • Private search
  • Privacy Policy:
  • 14 Eyes:
    • Yes
  • Note:
    • Brave declares: “it does not track or profile users.”.
      • Brave Search follows those same principles: 
        1. Brave Search is private: it does not track or profile users.
        2. Brave Search is user-first: Brave serves the user first, not the advertising and data industries. 
        3. Brave Search offers choice: We will provide options for ad-free paid search and ad-supported search. We are working on bringing private ads to search, as we’ve done for Brave user ads.
        4. Brave Search is independent: We will rely on anonymized contributions from the community to improve and refine Brave Search. Prior to this innovation, producing quality results could be achieved only by Big Tech companies, which took many years and tens of billions of dollars to crawl the entire Web continually.
        5. Brave Search is transparent: we will not use secret methods or algorithms to bias results. We will explore multiple community-curated open ranking models to ensure diversity, and prevent algorithmic biases and outright censorship.
        6. Brave Search is seamless: we will offer best-in-class integration between the browser and search without compromising privacy, from personalization to instant results as the user types.
        7. Brave Search is open: we do not believe in walled gardens and, as such, we will offer Brave Search to power other search engines.

SearXNG


searxng



  • Founder: Open source - We read:
    • SearXNG development has been started in the middle of 2021 as a fork of the searx project.
    • Why SearX and SearXNG? You can find the differences between SearX and SearXNG here.
    • SearxNG is a fork of searx, created by a former maintainer of searx.
    • To run a public instance, go with SearxNG. If you want to self host your own instance, choose searx.
    • Given this, we understand that the most recent and updated solution is SearXNG.
  • Jurisdiction: 
    • It is open source and depends on the location of the server on which an instance is installed and thus on user access ([there are many instances online]](https://searx.space)).
  • Kind:
    • Metasearch engine
  • Kind of search:
    • Private search
  • Privacy Policy:
    • Apart from what is published on the SearXNG documents web page, mainly about the privacy of that resource, there is no specific privacy policy because SearXNG is open source; each system administrator can decide the privacy policy depending on the server’s location on which the instance is installed.
  • 14 Eyes:
    • It depend on the instance’s location.
  • Note:
    • SearXNG is a free internet metasearch engine which aggregates results from more than 70 search services. Users are neither tracked nor profiled. Additionally, SearXNG can be used over Tor for online anonymity." You can try any public instance.
    • Features:
      • Self hosted
      • No user tracking
      • No user profiling
      • About 70 supported search engines
      • Easy integration with any search engine
      • Cookies are not used by default
      • Secure, encrypted connections (HTTPS/SSL)
    • How does SearXNG protect privacy?
      • SearXNG protects the privacy of its users in multiple ways regardless of the type of the instance (private, public). Removal of private data from search requests comes in three forms:
      1. removal of private data from requests going to search services
      2. not forwarding anything from a third party services through search services (e.g. advertisement)
      3. removal of private data from requests going to the result pages
        Removing private data means not sending cookies to external search engines and generating a random browser profile for every request. Thus, it does not matter if a public or private instance handles the request, because it is anonymized in both cases. IP addresses will be the IP of the instance. But SearXNG can be configured to use proxy or Tor.  Result proxy is supported, too.
        SearXNG does not serve ads or tracking content unlike most search services. So private data is not forwarded to third parties who might monetize it. Besides protecting users from search services, both referring page and search query are hidden from visited result pages.

YaCy


YaCy



  • Founder: - Michael Peter Christen - Orbiter - is the maintainer of the software YaCy.
  • Jurisdiction: 
    • It’s open source and depends on the location where an instance is installed and thus the user accesses.
  • Kind:
    • Distributed Web Search Engine, based on a peer-to-peer network
  • Kind of search:
    • Private search
  • Privacy Policy:
    • Apart from what is published on the YaCy FAQ web page, mainly related to the privacy of that resource, there is no specific Privacy Policy because SearXNG is open source; any admin can decide the privacy policy depending on the instance’s location.
  • 14 Eyes:
    • It depend on the instance’s location.
  • Note:
    • FAQ:
    • Decentralization - Imagine if, rather than relying on the proprietary software of a large professional search engine operator, your search engine was run by many private computers which aren’t under the control of any one company or individual. Well, that’s what YaCy does!.
    • Indexing means that a web page is separated into the single words on it and to save the URLs to the sites containing them under a reference to the word itself in a database. So searching for a word (or many words) may be easily performed by fetching all URLs “belonging” to the search term.
    • Will running YaCy jeopardize my privacy? YaCy respects user privacy. All password - or cookies-protected pages are excluded from indexing. Additionally, pages loaded using GET or POST parameters are not indexed by default. Thus, only publicly accessible, non-password-protected pages will be indexed. For a detailed explanation on the technique: How YaCy protects your privacy wrt to personalized pages.
    • Can other people find-out about my browsing log/history? There’s no way to browse the pages that are stored on a peer. A search of the pages is only possible on a precise word. The words are themselves dispatched over the peers thanks to the distributed hash tables (DHT). Then the hash tables of the peers are mixed, which makes retrieving the history of browsing of a certain peer impossible.
    • GDPR Compliance - YaCy has a strong connection to privacy-aware tools. As such it does not collect personalized data. It also has no ‘phoning-home’ integrated. This web page does not use cookies. However, linked services may have cookies.

Startpage


SP



  • Founder: Robert E.G. Beens - 2000
  • Jurisdiction: 
    • Europe: The Nederlands
  • Kind:
    • Search engine
  • Kind of search:
    • Private search (see Note below)
  • 14 Eyes:
    • Yes
  • Privacy Policy: Startpage Privacy Policy
  • Note:
    • Startpage was formerly Ixquick (created in 1998).
    • From the Privacy Policy we read:
    • We don’t collect any “personal data
    • We don’t record your IP address
    • We don’t serve any tracking or identifying cookies
    • We don’t record your search queries
    • We don’t disclose or sell your contact information
    • How we respond to governmental requests for data
    • We will never comply with any voluntary surveillance program
    • Startpage complies with the GDPR

Gibiru


Gibiru



  • Founder: No data found
  • Jurisdiction: 
    • Europe: Germany
  • Kind:
    • Metasearch engine
  • Kind of search:
    • Private search
  • 14 Eyes
    • Yes
  • Privacy Policy
  • Note:
    • From their web site
    • Zero retargeting. - You’ll never be solicited to buy item you have already purchased. We don’t log your searches, IP address or place cookies on your computer. This means there is not data to sell to advertisers or to use to retarget you.
    • Honest Earnings. - We generate our revenue strictly on a commission basis. When our users buy something or place a call to action while using Gibiru, we take a commission. We don’t make any money by selling your hobbies, political interests and search logs.
    • We don’t store or sell your privacy. - Our mission is to provide our users access to information outside of Big Tech’s censorship bubble and do so privately.

Metager


Metager



  • Founder: MetaGer is developed as a research project by the University of Hanover and the regional data center in Lower Saxony - 1996. From 1/10/2012 MetaGer is transferred to the non-profit association SUMA-EV - Association for Free Access to Knowledge. The cooperation with the University of Hannover is continued. Currently, Hebeler, Dominik is the CEO of the non-profit association SUMA-EV - Association for Free Access to Knowledge.
  • Jurisdiction: 
    • Europe: Germany
  • Kind:
    • Metasearch engine
  • Kind of search:
    • Private search
  • 14 Eyes
    • Yes
  • Privacy Policy
  • Metagear Privacy Policy
  • Note:

Mojeek


Mojeek



  • Founder: Marc Smith - 2004
  • Jurisdiction: 
    • UK: Mojeek Limited registered in England #06918197 - 74 High Street, Croydon, CR9 2UU.
  • Kind:
    • Search engine
  • Kind of search:
    • Private search
  • 14 Eyes
    • Yes
  • Privacy Policy
  • Note:
    Mojeek declares in their privacy policy:
    Mojeek doesn’t implement any kind of specific user tracking, whether that be at the time of visit or subsequently via standard logs, which Mojeek does keep. These logs contain the time of visit, page requested, possibly referral data, and located in a separate log browser information. IP addresses are not recorded, instead the IP address is replaced with a simple two letter code indicating the visitors country of origin. By doing this, Mojeek removes any possibility of tracking or identifying any particular user. We use a URL parameter to monitor if a campaign landing page visit results in a Mojeek search request. This parameter is visible in the URL and is not used after the first search.

Qwant


Qwant



  • Founder: Jean-Manuel Rozan - Éric Léandri - Patrick Constant - 2013
  • Jurisdiction: 
    • Europe: France - QWANT - 10 boulevard Haussmann 75009 Paris
  • Kind:
    • Metasearch engine
  • Kind of search:
    • Private search
  • 14 Eyes
    • Yes
  • Privacy Policy
  • Note:
    See their privacy policy.

Swisscows


DDG



  • Founder: Andreas Wiebe - 2014 - The Swisscows AG Switzerland is the proprietor and operator of Swisscows.
  • Jurisdiction: 
    • Switzerland
  • Kind:
    • Search engine
  • Kind of search:
    • Private search
  • 14 Eyes
    • No
  • Privacy Policy
  • Note:
    • From their page:
    • The Swisscows Search module includes fast response time and search syntax. It goes beyond the Boolean search and also the fault-tolerant search. Basically, all languages that are used by word and writing are recognized, we call it character sets.
    • The Swisscows semantic search is ingenious and extremely efficient! With the help of this module, semantic connections in the web are recognized and brought to the surface. Existing information from the Internet chaos of the unstructured data world can be found and displayed precisely and quickly.
    • Swisscows is stored in the most secure data center in Europe in Switzerland. The SWISS FORT KNOX I + II is an underground data center concept with several locations in the Swiss Alps. All facilities have independent supplies in all areas as well as a climate system independent of the outside world. The construction is resistant to any military or civilian threat. The access control is very restrictive. Various areas are only accessible to selected employees. The 24-hour operation is constantly monitored by a double-guided OperationCenter. All operating processes are subject to the dual control principle. Multi-level protection measures in the area of network and IT reduce every conceivable risk to the absolute minimum. All sites have constant video and fire monitoring. Two facilities are connected by a dedicated fiber link. The SWISS FORT KNOX is operated by SIAG Secure Infostore AG, which is certified according to ISO27001. The concept represents a huge investment volume and is considered the safest data center in Europe.

Update

Worth mentioning Presearch that we missed, and now we update this contribution by adding it.

Presearch


DDG



Conclusions

Coming to the end of this contribution, we hope to have, albeit shortly, clarified the differences between search engines and metasearch engines (one solution only is a Distributed Web Search Engine).

Our goal is to highlight the importance of privacy concerns and issues in online searches.

Based on our experience and the tests we have conducted, our preferred solutions are - in the order - the following:

  1. Brave Search
  2. DuckDuckGo
  3. Presearch
  4. SearXNG
  5. Swisscows
  6. Startpage
  7. YaCy

We will continue writing on other content and hope to publish an overview of the browsers and the VPN soon.


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