Four privacy-first Google search alternatives you need to try

Google is at the heart of billions of people’s digital lives. There’s a good chance that each day you use Chrome as your web browser, Gmail for your emails, back up your pictures to Google Photos, watch videos on YouTube, plan your travel using Google Maps and store all your files in Google Drive.

All these Google services are used by more than a billion people, but Google’s deepest integration into our lives comes from its original product: search. As of June 2021, Google search is used by 87 per cent of computers. And its mobile market share jumps even higher, hitting 94 per cent.

Google has been in trouble with competition regulators around the world on multiple occasions for abusing its dominance in search. But despite its strong position, there are plenty of other search rivals out there. Some have existed for more than a decade, others are new.

Many alternative search engines accept they can’t compete with the scale of Google – it’s been crawling and indexing the web for decades. Instead, they try to stand out by putting people’s privacy first. They claim to not collect people’s personal data and their business models don’t revolve around selling highly targeted ads that are based on your behaviour.

Sometimes this means the search experience isn’t exactly as smooth as Google’s but it’s a compromise many may be willing to make to get away from the tech giant. Here are the Google search alternatives you should try out.

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo, which was founded back in 2008, is perhaps the most widely known Google search rival. At the start of 2021, its privacy-focused search engine passed more than 100 million daily search queries for the first time – and has since been averaging around 90 million per month.

Searching with DuckDuckGo is completely anonymous, the company says. Its search results are sourced from Microsoft’s Bing and four hundred other sources. It doesn’t collect the queries you make or any of your personal information. The company says it doesn’t store IP addresses or “any other unique identifiers in search logs”. This means it can’t create a user profile about you.

Like Google, the company makes money through advertising displayed around the results of your searches. Unlike Google, these ads are broad and based on a specific term – if you search for new cars, you may see adverts for a Toyota. This is different from the ads shown on Google’s search results, which are targeted, combining your search history and other information Google has about you to show what it hopes are more relevant ads.

Startpage

Want Google’s search results but without Google? Startpage may be the answer. The company serves up Google’s search results without you being tracked. “Startpage submits your query to Google anonymously, then returns Google results to you privately,” the company says on its website. It adds that Google “never sees you and does not know who made the request”.

Startpage, which was founded in the Netherlands in 2006, says that it doesn’t store people’s personal data or search history, and your IP address is removed by its servers. The company also says it blocks price trackers and prevents advertisers from showing you ads based on your online history. (It does show ads from Google’s search results). Its search results also let you click to open an anonymous view of them – which it claims works like a VPN.

The experience isn’t exactly the same as Google search, but the results are. For instance, if you search for something in the news – such as Boris Johnson – Google will show you a carousel of the latest news stories before its search results. Google also includes Johnson’s latest tweets, videos of him and photos. When you’re using Startpage the clutter is removed and you just get URLs.

Mojeek

Mojeek doesn’t use search results from other search engines. Instead, the British search engine, which launched in 2006, is building its own index of the web. It’s doing this in the same way as Google and Bing. The company’s crawlers, which trawl the web and collect information about pages, have indexed more than four billion web pages.

This crawling isn’t as extensive as Google’s – back in 2013 Google said it was indexing 30 trillion web pages, 100 billion times a month – but Mojeek says its approach means it is fully in control of the search results it shows. The company argues there should be alternative indexes to those controlled by Big Tech. “Making and altering our own algorithm from scratch to display high quality and unbiased results is essential,” the company said in 2018.