Christian Stewart is a privacy researcher and reporter. Follow his latest coverage on YouTube.
The first search engine, Archie Query Form, was developed in 1990, but this search engine looked nothing like today’s well-known search engines. For example, Yahoo! started in 1994 and Google launched in 1998.
Initially the big search engines didn’t do the amount of tracking that they do now. Unfortunately, they have become experts at linking your searches and other web behavior to your specific data profile that they use to advertise to you. It didn’t take long for people to realize the issues with tracked search engines. This lead to the development of private search engines like StartPage, DuckDuckGo and Search Encrypt.
For major search engines, like Google, Yahoo! and Bing, the largest revenue stream comes from targeted advertising. Ad targeting relies on massive amounts of user data, something private search engines don’t have. Private search engines use an entirely different business model, one that doesn’t rely on your data.
Ixquick was an early entry into the private search market. This search engine started in 1998, but wasn’t a “private search engine” for a number of years. In June 2006, after Google Shopping faced criticism about its privacy, Ixquick.com decided to delete all the private details about its users.
In 2009, Ixquick relaunched its search engine as StartPage, with the idea that the new name would be easier to spell and remember. It must have worked because StartPage now sees about 90 million monthly visits to its site.
StartPage uses the Google algorithms deliver its search results, but adds privacy measures to keep your searches anonymous. Startpage is based outside the US, has been independently audited, and also offers privacy tools beyond its search engine — making it a solid choice for a private search engine.
CEO of StartPage Robert Beens said:
“The only thing that sets us apart from bigger search that do monetize people’s user behavior is the fact we don’t. That’s what attracts people to us. It’s true that the revenue we make on our ads is far less than what others tend to make — so be it. It’s what makes us unique.”
DuckDuckGo is the most well-known private search engine. Its founder and CEO, Gabriel Weinberg started the company on his own in 2008, and has grown it to processing over 20 million searches a day. DuckDuckGo, similar to Ixquick, didn’t start as a privacy-focused search engine. Weinberg realized the risk associated with gathering and storing the massive amount of data about users, so in early 2009, he decided DuckDuckGo would stop tracking users’ search history.
In February 2012, the search engine saw its first day with over 1 million searches. Just 483 days later DuckDuckGo processed 2 million searches in one day — 8 days later, 3 million searches. The massive growth DDG saw in this time period was a booming time for all private search engines. Edward Snowden’s claims about NSA surveillance, and growing privacy concerns caused more people than ever to start using private search engines.
Search Encrypt launched in April of 2016. A team of developers saw two big flaws with major search engines: tracking and filter bubbles. They decided to try to create a tool that delivered relevant, objective results without tracking any user-identifiable data.
Search Encrypt is built with privacy-by-design, which means that privacy has always been central to its functionality. It doesn’t track user identifiable information, and encrypts all search terms on its servers. After you’re done searching, your search terms expire so no one can access them, even other users on your computer.
In the past four months, Search Encrypt’s Alexa Traffic Rank jumped from 2,993 to 832 (it is the 832nd most visited website in the world).
Filter bubbles are the result of predictive algorithms only displaying search results or posts in your social feeds that it thinks you’re likely to click on. These are a type of intellectual isolation, because you aren’t getting a complete representation of the available information.
People use search engines to look up all sorts of crazy things. It’s understandable then that people may not want other people to have access to their search history. And why should anyone need this information? The search engine shouldn’t need it, and neither should advertisers — or anyone else.
Even if you don’t have anything to hide, protecting your privacy is in your best interest. If we assume that anyone who tries to maintain their privacy is doing so to hide illegal or negative activity, we shine a toxic light on privacy rights in general.
The ads popping up around the web for things you have talked to your friends about have become the norm on the internet. People were caught off guard when this first started happening, but now just take it as part of the internet. This shouldn’t be the case. While this is great for companies trying to sell you their product, it isn’t a user friendly environment.
Most websites track you in some way, but private search engines don’t. For anyone who wants to limit their exposure on the internet, choosing sites that don’t track users is a good start. Big search engines have been optimizing their data collection processes for years. They collect tons of information and add it to their “profile” about you. These profiles allow companies to charge you more, and specifically target you with ads.
Private search engines don’t need your data to provide their services. They are a vital part of the movement towards a decentralized and neutral internet. If the biggest players in the industry are constantly pushing back against privacy laws, the whole internet suffers.
Big search engines have a monopolistic control over the search market. This means that they can get away with a lot, even if it goes against the interest of their users. The success of private search engine shows that people are willing to give up some of the flashy features of big search engines, for privacy — as long as the core product works well.
Yes. Private search engines keep your identity and web behavior from being sent to third parties. While private search engines alone won’t keep you completely safe, they are a vital addition to a complete set of privacy tools. To add even more privacy to your browsing experience, take these 8 steps to protect your digital privacy.
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