Comparing Alternative Search Engines
Summary: While Google is undoubtedly still the most prolific search engine out there, alternative providers have been gaining popularity among users – and rightly so. This article presents a selection of 11 search engines, comparing them especially regarding their security and privacy features.
Just like several other Silicon Valley big tech companies, Google was initially founded in a garage by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. What had started in 1998 as one server built from LEGO has grown to hundreds of thousands of servers spread across four continents today. Google has a global market share of about 87% and an estimated 2 trillion search queries per year, making them the most popular search engine by far.
Security: With that amount of search queries and connected user accounts, Google can collect and aggregate large amounts of personal data. The company's infamous strategy of tracking and storing all search activity has made many users feel spied on. Google even openly admits that it collects the following data, among others:
The information we collect includes unique identifiers, browser type and settings, device type and settings, operating system, mobile network information including carrier name and phone number, and application version number.
Google justifies the accumulation of data by stating that the information is necessary to deliver the appropriate results and advertisements for each person who triggers a search.
From June 2009 to January 2012, Microsoft's search engine was in beta stage and considered to be the successor of Live Search. As of August 2020, the link to the company behind Bing became visually clear, as both the logo and name of the search engine changed from Bing to Microsoft Bing. The seamless integration with Office or Microsoft 365 products is a feature highly valued by Bing users.
Organizations and companies in particular can benefit from this, since you can preview and open Microsoft documents on the home page of Bing, as well as see upcoming appointments in your calendar at first glance, for example. In the US, Microsoft Bing is the second most popular search engine, with a market share of around 6%. With a worldwide market share of 5%, Microsoft Bing holds second place globally as well.
We also share data with Microsoft-controlled affiliates and subsidiaries; with vendors working on our behalf; when required by law or to respond to legal process; to protect our customers; to protect lives; […] and to protect the rights and property of Microsoft and its customers.
There is no clear definition of the circumstances under which it would be appropriate for the government to access user data. It is advisable to switch to an alternative search engine with servers located e.g. in Europe, as data regulations tend to be more strict there.
The environmentally friendly search engine Ecosia was founded in December 2009 by Christian Kroll and is headquartered in Berlin. Its goal is to use the revenue generated by search queries to plant trees and thus counteract the effects of deforestation. The company transparently publishes their figures in a monthly financial report. Ecosia donates about 0.5 ct per search, meaning it takes approximately 45 searches to reportedly get one tree funded. In July 2021, more than 130 million trees have already been planted by the company since its foundation. Ecosia ranks on fifth place among other search engines in the US, with a market share of 0.13%.
Security: Not only does Ecosia prioritize sustainability, but also the security of its users. According to the company, search queries are encrypted and no external tracking tools are used. In addition, users have the option to deactivate any sort of tracking. On its website, Ecosia makes a direct comparison to Google to illustrate how the search engines handle user data:
At Ecosia, we do not create a personal user profile of you but anonymize all searches after 7 days. Google has many other services [...] which can be used on other websites, etc. This means that your data from many different sources may be combined and a detailed profile of you can be created to subsequently show you personalized search results and advertising.
Another interesting fact is that Ecosia handles search queries via Microsoft Bing. In order to remain carbon-neutral, Gold Standard certificates are purchased from myclimate. In our opinion, Ecosia is a more secure and also greener and more sustainable alternative to the market leader Google.
Gabriel Weinberg founded the company DuckDuckGo in February 2008 and currently employs around 120 people. With more than 2.4 billion search queries each month, DuckDuckGo is the fourth most popular search engine in the USA with a market share of just over 2.5%, and sixth worldwide with 0.8%. DuckDuckGo has made it its goal to make people aware of how to protect their data.
Security: DuckDuckGo strives to offer their users high data protection standards without additional effort. Protecting the user's privacy online should be as easy as closing the blinds. DuckDuckGo offers a browser extension that includes a tracker blocker and website encryption in addition to the search engine. A private browser app is also available for mobile devices running on Android or iOS.
Since the search engine uses Amazon's cloud infrastructure, the latter could theoretically exploit data such as the user's IP address. Due to regulations in the USA, this data would then have to be transmitted to the government in some cases. However, no instances are known to date, which is why we recommend DuckDuckGo as a suitable Google alternative. Users should keep in mind that there are ways authorities could gain access, though it is highly unlikely they will.
On March 2nd, 1995, the search engine founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo went live. Today, the company belongs to Verizon Media and is based in California. Like other Verizon Media search engines, Yahoo! Search is powered by Microsoft Bing. In the USA, Yahoo's search engine has a market share of approximately 3%, just a bit above DuckDuckGo. In a global comparison, Yahoo! Search ranks third with a market share of around 2.7%.
Your personal information may be transferred to countries other than your own, especially to servers in the United States […]. Some of these countries may not have the same data protection safeguards as the country where you reside.
The data transmission policy and the transfer of data to governments are not the only points of criticism. The search results of Yahoo! Search as well as AOL and OneSearch preferably display results from their parent company Verizon Media, distorting the quality of the search.
Founded in 2011, the French search engine with Europe-based servers ran as a beta version in France and Germany for two years. Qwant customer base includes the major publishing group Axel Springer as well as the European Bank, leading to significantly higher user numbers. Protecting the privacy of users is the top priority of the search engine. Qwant states that it processes over 189 million search queries a month and, in addition to the search engine, also offers its own tracking-free map service, as well as a search engine tailored for children.
Security: Qwant describes itself as a "search engine that respects your privacy" by not tracking its users or storing any of their data. Moreover, the users' browsing history is not saved and analyzed by Qwant. To protect the privacy of individuals, no cookies are placed for advertising purposes, and data is stored anonymously.
We don’t keep your search history and we don’t create an advertising profile to target you. With Qwant, you are of course entitled to the rights guaranteed by the European General Data Protection Regulation of April 27, 2016, known as the “GDPR”.
With its European server locations and neutral search queries, Qwant is a suitable and secure search engine alternative to its American competitors Google, Yahoo! Search, and Microsoft Bing.
As the winner of Stiftung Warentest's (leading German consumer safety group) search engine category, Startpage surpassed the search engine leader Google in second place and claimed the title of the "safest search engine in the world". Founded in 2006 in the Netherlands, Startpage's mission is to raise awareness and protect humanity's right to privacy. Some notable users include Edward Snowden and Max Schrems, who are both world-renowned for their work in strengthening and preserving data protection and privacy.
Security: Startpage operates server clusters in the United States and the Netherlands. The company states that, in general, data from European search queries are managed on European servers, and data from American queries are managed on American servers. Startpage also delivers search results from Google, but the search data is neither tracked nor stored or sold, and no personal user profile is created. With the help of a proxy, users can also disguise and anonymize their identity on other websites.
When you search, your query is automatically stripped of unnecessary metadata including your IP address and other identifying information. We send the anonymized search query to Google and return the search results to you. We don’t log your searches.
The world's most secure search engine is a recommended Google alternative, as the same results are displayed, with the added benefit of the search queries being anonymized and completely protected.
Neeva was founded to let its users decide how they want to experience the Internet and search queries. Searches are always conducted privately and without advertising. Customer data is not shared. To use Neeva, users must create a free account. Those who want to take advantage of additional features and partner offers from other privacy-friendly companies can sign up for Neeva Premium Membership, starting at $4.95 a month.
Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan founded Neeva, who were both previously employed as advertising executives at Google. Neeva can be added as a browser extension for Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox or Safari, as well as downloaded as an iOS app. Search queries can be personalized by adding specific news agencies and retailers to favorites, for example.
Security: According to Neeva, only a small amount of generated information is linked to the user's account and is automatically deleted after 90 days. This information will not be shared with third parties or resold. The data collected by Neeva, such as the search history, is encrypted either "at rest", on its servers or "in transit".
We do not and never have sold consumers' personal information.
Under the CLOUD Act, U.S.-based providers are legally obligated to disclose stored data to certain authorities for justifiable cause. However, it does not elaborate on when a reason is truly justifiable. Even if data has never been disclosed according to the provider's statement, you should keep this fact in mind.
Feature Update: When users search for health-related topics, it will show which results are advertisements. Additionally, with Neeva's newly introduced "Hide Ad-Supported" button, users can filter out any promotional findings.
The open-source search engine based in Berlin offers its users secure access to the Internet with anonymous search requests. Although personalized, no data is accrued, and no advertising is displayed. The company was founded in 2017 by Leif-Nissen Lundbæk (PhD), Professor Michael Huth and Felix Hahmann. Xayn originated as a joint research project between Oxford University and the Imperial College London. The goal is to make privacy technologies mainstream and user-friendly.
Security: The search algorithms work locally on the respective device with a proxy and are not uploaded to a cloud, ensuring that no data is shared with the company or third parties. Also, according to the company, network communications are homomorphically encrypted. This allows the search engine's algorithms to continue working without having to decrypt files.
We do not collect any of your data. Xayn employs no central storage servers of any kind. All the data you generate for training purposes is stored on your device. If Xayn were to be deleted from your device, so would all your data.
Thanks to its strong privacy features, we can confidently recommend Xayn. The use of encryption, as well as decentralization of the storage location, makes Xayn a secure Google alternative. In terms of sustainability, the search engine is committed to being climate-neutral and supports various sustainability projects.
Unlike competing search engines, You.com positions itself as the "world's first open search engine platform" that aggregates search results for its users and displays relevant results. You.com was founded by Richard Socher and Bryan McCann, who both previously held senior positions at Salesforce.
Security: You.com states that it does not store sensitive data and never shares other data with third parties. The search engine offers two settings. First, there is the "Private Mode", in which no data is collected, allegedly. The other is "Personal Mode" that displays the most relevant apps, which can be personalized according to the user's preferences. However, You.com emphasizes that no data is sold on in either mode, and customers are neither tracked nor are there any cookies in use.
We make reasonable efforts to protect your information by using physical and electronic safeguards designed to improve the security of the information we maintain. However, as our Services are hosted electronically, we can make no guarantees as to the security or privacy of your information.
Currently, You.com is still in its growth phase, so the search engine is offered free of charge and without advertising. The algorithm is still far from being as effective as the one from Google. It cannot be ruled out that the business model might change as the company further develops – in the future, (private) advertising might be displayed. You.com also focuses on sustainability and aims to become climate-neutral with the help of Sustain.Life.
The community-based search engine differentiates itself from the competition by actively involving its users. In Presearch's community chat groups, users can upload their ideas for the open-source code. People who actively use Presearch, contribute to the code, or recommend the search engine to others are rewarded with tokens.
Security: Presearch is currently working on a decentralized version developed by the community. It also states that user data is not tracked, and search queries are only stored in an anonymous form. Blockchain technologies are used for algorithms. Search results can be personalized at the user's discretion. This does not happen automatically due to the lack of tracking and profiling of users.
We do not store your search terms. We do not track or store your GPS location. We do not use third-party cookies. We do not track users across sites.
Currently, the search engine can be used in the web browser with the option to download additional packages. These community packages are continuously updated and uploaded by members. The Presearch website reports current successes as well as the roadmap.
It is worthwhile to consider other search engines as alternatives to Google. Especially since your personal data is often transmitted in the background of each search process, changing your default search engine can make a big difference in your data protection level.
In terms of security, DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, Qwant, Xayn, and Startpage lead the way, as these search engines either anonymize user data or do not store it in the first place. As for Ecosia, the sustainability aspect prevails in particular, since every search funds the planting of a new tree or supports social projects. Qwant and Startpage outshine the competition with their servers based in Europe, suggesting better legally mandated data protection. This has a reassuring effect, especially on European users. The unique feature of both Xayn and Presearch is their decentralized operation, resulting in no user data being stored directly on a server.
We understand that switching search engines might be challenging for those who use Google daily and are used to its features and search result quality. Individuals who want to stick with Google should at least check their privacy settings and adjust them if necessary. For this purpose, Google offers a privacy check, which is supposed to make the user's account more secure just with a few clicks.
We hope our article helped you obtain a good overview of some Google alternatives and perhaps inspired you to take steps towards making your search more private. You can stay in control of your data and prevent it from being transferred to random companies or even foreign authorities.