As we explained in our Tracking and Sale of Internet Usage Data article, many websites will track what you do and where you go on them. They then use this information to create a sort of "profile" on who you are and what you like, and show you different content accordingly. Some even sell your information to advertisers so that they can show you advertisements targeted towards your alleged interests.
While some people find this feature neat, many others find it creepy and privacy-invasive. And search engines are some of the biggest users of this practice. After all, if you're trying to find something on the Internet, then you have to be at least somewhat interested in it, right?
However, there are some search engines run by people who know that there is a growing general concern about how often average citizens get tracked on the Internet, especially by major search engines such as Google Search, Yahoo Search, and Bing. So, their search engines simply don't do it. They don't collect data on what you search for, and they don't show you different results based on what you've looked for before.
Sometimes, it can be useful to get search engine results that are skewed towards what you're interested in. But your personal preferences may not always be relevant in terms of what you're looking for, especially if you're searching for words or phrases that have multiple meanings. And, of course, seeing online advertisements that are based on tracking where you've gone and what you've done on the Internet can be a little off-putting.
Private search engines often give you the same results every time you search for the same key words or phrases. This can be advantageous, in that you'll reliably know what you'll find if you search for the same thing multiple times. Others can allow you to view a website through a fake server, so if you visit a malicious website by mistake, their computer is the one that takes the hit, and yours is safe.
Finally, the core thing that puts the "private" in "private search engines" is that they don't collect information about what you search for and/or where your search request is coming from (i.e. your computer), so your Internet activity can't be tracked while using one of these search engines.
DuckDuckGo is far and away the most popular private search engine. It doesn't keep a record of what you search for, which means that it doesn't skew your results towards what it thinks you want to see. Instead, it will give you the same search results every time you enter the same key words or phrases. It also lets you instantly search for your terms on other major search engines and directory websites.
StartPage's parent company, IxQuick, also has a search engine that looks for results from major search engines other than Google Search. It works pretty much the same way as StartPage. You can check it out at www.ixquick.com.
Disconnect Search is part of a whole suite of software that is dedicated to keeping people's activities on the Internet private. All of Disconnect's products, including its search engine, follow four basic rules. First, they never collect any information about you without you saying so, which includes things like your computer's Internet address and (consequently) your location in the world. Second, any personal information that you do give them is never sold to anyone else. Third, said personal information is only shared with others in emergency situations, such as in order to comply with the law. And finally, any personal information given to Disconnect will be deleted within a month of you asking them to do so.
If the advertisements you get when using the "big three" search engines (Google Search, Yahoo Search, and Bing) are starting to creep you out, try one of these private options. You might find something fresh that gives you a new perspective, something that you wouldn't have found had your search engine only been directing you towards what it thought you were interested in. You might even see information and perspectives from other countries, if your search engine was skewing your search results towards those from the country you live in!
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