Four alternatives to Google that don’t spy on you
While we search things on the web, Google is collecting scary amounts of personal data about us. This post presents four alternative search engines that you can use to protect your privacy.
The scary amount of data that Google collects about you
Browsing the internet starts with search, and for most of us means “googling”. Over the past 20 years, Google has built a huge imperium based on showing targeted ads to its users — us.
For me, the perfect reminder was the illustration published by Duckduckgo in May 2021. It shows what Google collects about you in the Chrome browser and with their eponymous search. Duckduckgo called out Google for “spying on users”. Looking at this graphic I couldn’t agree more: It’s horrible.
There’s no question that Google produces amazing products: Gmail, Google Maps, Chrome, YouTube, Android, and of course the search engine itself are all wonderful tools.
What is worrying is two things: First, Google monetizes its products by showing us ads. To paraphrase the old meme, “The products are for free because we are the product”. That can have pernicious side-effects.
Second, Google maximizes its advertising earnings by improving ad targeting, i.e. showing the right ads to the right people. They do that by gathering as much data as possible about their users, i.e. you and me.
If you’re wondering why you would care about data privacy, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides some interesting thoughts.
However, if you’ve got this far I assume you’re interested in protecting your privacy. So what other search engines could you use to do that? Here’s an overview of four, and a list of some others.
DDG keeps your information private by not using cookies or storing any information about users. This is unlike Google or Bing that actively collect data to build profile of you for better ad targeting.
In addition, DDG sends the websites you click on less information: When you click on a search result, Google and Bing automatically send your search terms and information like your IP address to that website. DDG doesn’t do that so websites can’t see who you are or what you searched. Additional privacy features include trying to connect to encrypted versions of websites and offering users the option to route through a proxy.
DDG earns money on advertising (like Google), but without any targeting and purely based on the keywords you use. That means if you search “car” you get ads for cars.
DDG also offers a desktop and mobile browsers, as well as a Chrome extension. If you want to keep your information private while browsing, DDG is a good place to start.
Neeva is taking a new approach to search by ditching the advertising model altogether. Instead, they want to use a subscription model. The idea is that a subscription model makes the user the customer rather than the advertiser, which aligns Neeva’s interests with yours.
Neeva is currently free (thanks VCs). According to the website it will eventually cost $4.95 per month.
It’s unclear whether a subscription model for search will catch on after Google has spent 20 years teaching us it’s free, or whether it will remain a niche product. But in any case it’s nice to have a subscription alternative on the market.
Ecosia is a Berlin-based company that offers another novel take on search. They’re a not-for-profit company that uses their revenue for reforestation. Yes you read that right: They plant trees.
Ecosia also preserves your privacy by anonymizing searches and not creating user profiles. In their own endearing words: “We’re interested in trees, not your data.”
At ~30M€ annual revenue, Ecosia is definitely a niche player in the >100BN$ search ad market, but I couldn’t help but be charmed by the idea and the way it’s communicated. It reminded me of Free Rice.
If you want to feel good while searching, give Ecosia a try.
You.com promises to “put you in control [of your privacy setttings]”. In practice that means they offer a “Private mode” where they don’t store query or share IP/location with partners. Note that Private mode is not the default, and You.com both collects data and shares it with partners.
In addition, You.com claims to make extensive use of “AI models”, though it’s unclear for what — except perhaps summarization of snippets. On the other hand they have potentially useful integrations for cloud apps like GitHub… if you happen to be a developer.
We’ll have to wait to see how You.com’s impressive domain name and search results perform in reality.
For this post I picked four privacy-focused browsers, but there’s no shortage of others. For those who want to investigate further, here’s a list of some others to get you started:
Curiosity: Privacy for your personal search
Keeping your web searches private is one thing, but when it’s about searching your own data like private files or emails, you definitely want to make sure everything stays safe and private.
At Curiosity, we care deeply about privacy and security. That’s is why our personal search keeps all your data safe on your computer. We never send any of your data to the cloud, so you’re the only one who can ever see it.
We do it that way because that’s how we want it to work for our own data. It should stay private, just like your internet searches with the products in this post.