The good news is there are several other options out there that pro-actively protect your privacy. And some of them are pretty good too. Below, I test the best four options using a search term 'internet explorer mac' that consistently ranks Softonic highly in Google.
It might sound like a takeaway but DuckDuckGo is extremely good at delivering accurate search results and protecting your privacy. DuckDuckGo uses various search engines including Bing, Yahoo!, Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia and it's own crawler (the DuckDuckBot) to deliver very similar results to Google but unlike Google, does not track you or store your IP address and requires no registration.
What I like most about DuckDuckGo is that it delivers results in a very clear format with a handy question and answer box at the top for the most commonly searched query related to your search terms. There is however one sponsored link at the top of the search results, but it's clearly highlighted and labelled. It also works with Tor to ensure that your searches are completely anonymous.
- Pros: High level of privacy protection, Attractive formatting, Uses Tor to anonymize searches.
Startpage claims to be "the world's most private search engine" although the "enhanced by Google" tag next to the search box may make you skeptical on first glance. It's essentially an anonymous front-end for Google which means it uses Google to deliver results but strips away all identifying information from your query. Startpage does store your IP address and only inserts one cookie for preferences which expires after 90 days of non-use. Startpage was also the first winner of a European Privacy Seal (EuroPriSe) awarded by the European Union for its privacy practices.
However, in my tests I found that it does lack accuracy. The results aren't quite as relevant as Google Search or DuckDuckGo delivers i.e. the most popular pages don't necessarily make the top results.
The results also aren't formatted quite as nicely as DuckDuckGo:
On the plus side, the format is more familiar to Google users with time customization options in the left margin and an integrated Image and Video search.
Note that Startpage is a sister site of Ixquick which is pretty much exactly the same as Startpage except it uses a variety of search engines - not just Google - to deliver results.
- Pros: Doesn't store IP address, Uses Google but strips away personal data, Won an EU award for privacy protection
- Cons: Basic formatting, Doesn't query other search engines
Blekko calls itself "the spam free search engine" and it's certainly a sight for sore eyes for those sick of ads. Blekko could be called the Wikipedia of search engines as it relies on editors and algorithms to "weed-out" untrustworthy sites. For example, health related queries are taken from less than 100 sites which are deemed to be trustworthy. It also doesn't collect any personal data and also eliminates all kinds of sponsored or ad-related search results. It simply delivers pure results a bit like the old days of Google:
It's very basic but very powerful - it claims to search over 3 billion websites and you can sort searches by date or relevance and filter just images and videos. Blekko also gives you a high degree of customization over your search preferences so you can choose to include certain features (such as Facebook) but eliminate others. Alternatively, there's a "SuperPrivacy" option which blocks just about everything. The accuracy is my only question doubt over Blekko - the top three results in my test are not as relevant as those returned by Google.
- Pros: Weeds-out untrustworthy sites for certain topics, Powerful privacy customization features, No ads
- Cons: May block legitimate results, Relevancy in top results questionable
eTools is a Swiss based project and one thing about Switzerland is that it has stringent privacy laws. eTools takes advantage of this and it's certainly the most comprehensive search engine out there querying 12 different search engines at once.
As you can see, it does deliver sponsored links at the top but it is extremely fast and accurate delivering the most relevant results first. It's very basic but I like the transparency in eTools. It tells you exactly how it works, which search engines have delivered the hits that you see and gives you a very accurate breakdown of which engines are working at any one time and how even how fast they are responding.
- Pros: Takes advantage of Swiss privacy laws, Very transparent, Uses 12 different search engines
- Cons: Delivers sponsored results, Very basic formatting
In my opinion, these are the best private alternatives to Google Search. It's still very much an evolving area and most aren't widely used but if privacy concerns increase, so will their popularity. If you know of any other contenders, let us know in the comments below.