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Search Engines - which one to choose?

- Introduction -
- The problem with no own index -
- List of providers -
- SearX -
- Brave Search -
- Wiby -
- Swisscows -
- StartPage -
- DuckDuckGo -
- Qwant -
- MetaGer -
- Jive Search (DEAD) -
- Mojeek -
- Ecosia -
- Oscobo -
- Discrete Search -
- Gibiru -
- Gigablast -
- Peekier -
- FindX -
- Marginalia -
- You -
- WebCrawler -
- Search my Site -
- MillionShort -
- Spyda -
- Excite -
- 4Conservative -
- GoodGopher -
- Summary -

Introduction

Most of us will use these every day (usually several times, in fact), so it's important to carefully consider your selection of choices. Not only do we want great results, but - since we will often share some really sensitive data with them (such as medical, travel, or even that we're interested in loli or shoplifting) - they better not be doing dirty stuff with it. There are also various additional functions that we'd like our search engines to provide. Now why did I use the phrase selection of choices? Because - as you will see - the situation with search engines is not as good as with E-mail providers, so we're forced to switch around since there isn't a single one that has everything we need. Without further ado, let us check what is available:

The problem with no own index

A while after finishing this article I've had a "revelation" - the situation with search engines is even worse than I thought before. Aside from Wiby (which has very few searchable sites in it) and Mojeek, the search engines mentioned here depend on others for their results. By "others" I mean either Google, Bing or Yahoo - three massive privacy violators. When you search through, say, Swisscows - the query is first sent to Swisscows, which forwards it to Bing, which then returns the result to Swisscows and finally to you. There are several problems with such a setup:

  1. Regardless of the engine's policy, the search terms are being stored on the violators' servers, and those can contain sensitive information.
  2. The engine needs to enter an agreement with the violator in order to proxy their results, and the contents of that agreement are not revealed to you and can include data collection. Unless they do it the Scroogle way... (archive) (hint: it died).
  3. The results will still be censored if that is the violator's policy.
  4. The engine can be blocked at any time by the violator.

This is not that different from using Invidious, Nitter, Facebook Container or custom Discord clients for their respective services - the violator still calls the shots. And we - like the wives dependent on their abusive husbands - keep coming back for more in hopes we can prevent some of the damage. But - as we rely more and more on the violators - it gets harder to dump them. Keep this in mind while reading through the below recommendations.

List of providers

Searx icon SearX Searx icon

UPDATE June 2022: rewritten. SearX allows you to choose the search engines used, and proxies your queries to them through itself. It has no own index so all the issues from the relevant section still apply. Still probably the best option to use these days, if you find a good instance. The level of support for different search engines can vary heavily. Bing, in particular, doesn't seem to work anywhere, and all other options aside from Mojeek (which will almost always block SearX) and Gigablast, censor. Yandex is not able to be proxied by SearX, either. Still, most of the relevant search engines are supported. So you might be wondering why use anything other than SearX. Well, it's because this happens more often than not:

Showing SearX being denied by several search engines

However, using SearX instead of the engines directly obviously provides superior privacy, not giving the proxied engines your IP or loading their trackers. Remember, though, that instances could still choose to collect data (read privacy policies if they exist). The best option is to spread your searching over several instances. SearX provides very useful Web Archive integration as well, helping avoid Cloudflare. Onion domains are possible if the instance has installed them. Searching itself works without JavaScript, even with images. NG has seemingly improved the image results, as well.

Brave icon Brave Search Brave icon

UPDATE: I don't want to call it "decent" anymore. Even though it apparently has its own index, it clearly deranks alternative content in favor of mainstream trash (results similar to Google's), even if the latter is barely relevant to what you searched for. That's in contrast to DuckDuckGo or Qwant, whose results are more in line with what you've actually typed. Edit: I was too lenient. The censorship is exactly like Google's - meaning you will never find the truth about the moon landing or COVID vaccines there even if the query asks for exactly that. What you will find - though - is a bunch of irrelevant "fact check" or "science loving" sites, or ones shitting on "conspiracy theorists". I am now doubting if they truly have their own index instead of lifting everything from Google - unless they chose to index only the evil sites and ignore all the good ones, which would be even worse. They lie about it, BTW:

No, Brave Search does not filter, downrank, or censor search results. Nor will we change our search algorithm to increase or decrease the prominence of results in response to current events or anyone’s political, religious, ethical, or other beliefs. Brave Search—like Brave itself—is intended to be a user-first portal to the web, free of Big Tech’s manipulation.

But everyone can easily verify the censorship for himself, with a query such as "9 / 11 was done by the government". And just with that, this brainwashing facility pretending to be a search engine should be trashed. But that's not all. Though Brave's privacy policy seems to say that the IP addresses are not stored:

You can search for ‘cafes near me' and Brave Search will use the IP address broadcast by your device but without sharing that IP address and without storing it. This means we can't tie your searches to you and your location.

It doesn't say literally anything else. We have to go to another page to see just how much stuff Brave stores:

They say this is all opt-in - but in reality, not only is the tracking opt-out (enabled by default) but you cannot even change it without JS and not at all in Pale Moon. This means they lied in their privacy policy by pretending that they will only collect the data if you allow them, which sounds as if it requires actual user action to happen. As usual, cynicism wins over hope. This should have been expected - it's still fucking Brave, and there has been a lot of shady shit going on with them. How do we know they won't include some sponsored results or add referral links, the way they did with their browser? How do we know they won't eventually partner with a violator, like they did with Uphold? And that's the biggest flaw of this search engine. Due to Brave's reputation taking several blows to the chin already, we just can't trust it anymore. Image search does not work without JS. UPDATE June 2022: Text queries used to work through TOR without JS, but now they bring up this:

Showing that Brave Search requires WebAssembly enabled

BS requires JS and WebAssembly enabled to search through TOR, enforcing the usage of bloated browsers. See? I told you to not be hopeful. Trash it and don't look back. UPDATE: there is now an onion, so I guess they do not hate TOR now at least on the onion.

Swisscows icon Swisscows Swisscows icon

UPDATE: it's worse than I thought - keep reading! If we only took into account the privacy policies (archive), this little known search engine from the Swiss Alps would rank very highly indeed:

We do not collect any of our visitors’ personal information. None whatsoever. When using Swisscows neither your IP address is recorded nor is the browser you are using (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Chrome, etc.) collected. No analyses are made, which operating system our users use (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.); your search are not recorded either. We record absolutely no data from our visitors. The only information we store is the number of search requests entered daily at Swisscows, to measure the total overall traffic on our website and to evaluate a breakdown of this traffic by language and mere overall statistics.

No IP or browser data is stored! Swisscows even realizes (unlike, say, DuckDuckGo) that saving the search queries is also dangerous, even if allegedly disassociated from so-called personal information:

Furthermore, it is important not to store any search terms, given that these can also contain personal data. (Just think about someone who enters their own name and/or their insurance number into the search box.)

For a while I thought that - while they might not store anything themselves - they might still share some data with Bing (which they use for their results) - but my suspicions were defused:

Swisscows does not transmit any personal information to third party search engines or to the providers of sponsored results.

All of this is according to their privacy policy only. However, we know better than to believe a privacy policy blindly - especially when there are some problems with the trustworthiness of Swisscows. First of all, they require JavaScript to display the page at all - which is a terrible design; worse yet - the code is heavily obfuscated - almost as if they were hiding something. I got a report of Swisscows including redirect links in its results. At first I thought it's some mistake, but decided to investigate and confirmed it. They look like this:

http://www.smartredirect.de/redir/clickGate.php?u=[UniqueUserId?]&m=12&p=[YetAnotherID?]&q=[YourSearchQuery]&url=[TargetURL]&r=https%3A%2F%2Fswisscows.ch%3Fquery%3D[YourQuery]

Shady as fuck and contrary to their privacy policy of not sending your data anywhere - because that redirect service will absolutely get your browsing history with what seems to be an user ID (unconfirmed yet) attached to it; as well as the search engine you used (in this case, Swisscows - but who knows what other partners in crime they have). According to this stat site (archive), Smart Redirect seems to collect the browsing history of almost 20K different people every day - a pretty significant violator, then. What this service actually does is show sponsored results that are indistinguishable from the regular ones aside from a little image next to them (for which Swisscows makes another third-party request). If you click on those links, your browser will make a request to an affiliate marketing company such as awin or linksynergy - which also seem to contain unique user IDs. Sometimes, searches from the Tor network will be denied - this might depend on which exit node you get. Regardless, they lied about not sending your data to third parties - safe to say, then, that the myth of the little private Swiss Cow is dead and buried. But let's dig a little deeper:

The only legitimate reason for our beginning to collect personal data would be the existence of a legal warrant or a court order, which would require us to do so in connection with a specific user, who is suspected of such a serious crime that such a violation of his or her privacy would be justified.

So they will perform targeted surveillance without notifying you when the government comes knocking (that's the great Swiss Privacy Law in action). The search engine also has this "family-friendly" shtick, which means you might get a message such as:

Dear user, the entered word is not allowed for under 18 year olds, since we have decided on the protection of minors, the word "insert search term" is excluded from the search. Thank you very much for your understanding!

This is activated by many porn-related queries and some violence-related ones but you can still find really graphic stuff like people's limbs being cut off pretty easily. And thankfully, information alone does not seem to be censored.

Swisscows also has a semantic map feature which displays additional terms relevant to the search you've typed, narrowing the results to what you might be looking for. I haven't found it very useful though, or maybe I just don't get how to use it. The search engine does not run without JavaScript enabled at all (can only see a white background - bad design!). XHR is also required to display the actual results (which come from Bing exclusively). Used to not work in Pale Moon but that seems to have been fixed recently (whether by them or by PM...). Swisscows can search for images, videos, and news; it also includes the only (AFAIK) privacy-aware translator which is unfortunately also family-friendly (cannot translate swear words...) does not include the translator anymore, so the one thing it was useful for is gone. Of course, the Swisscows Privacy Wall came crashing down above; it's not a sure thing we can even trust its policy when they've already broken it. So, Bing might be getting your data after all. Having problems with Tor seals the deal even further. Another one bites the dust, as they say!

StartPage icon StartPage StartPage icon

A privacy-based proxy for Google search. Claims to believe privacy is a fundamental human right; let's see how much do they actually follow that belief:

Why we don’t collect any "personal data"

We saw the perils of that in DDG's section - where, for example, measuring engagement of specific events on the page was considered non-personal, along with the actual search queries. But let's give the benefit of doubt and see what is StartPage's interpretation of the term:

We don’t record your IP address

With the most important potential roadblock out of the way, the privacy train is running at full speed!

We don’t serve any tracking or identifying cookies

No hiccups so far.

We do measure overall traffic numbers and some other – strictly anonymous – statistics. These stats may include the number of times our service is accessed by a certain operating system, a type of browser, a language, etc.

The privacy train is slowing down. I spoke of the problems with so-called anonymous data in DDG's section. Remember: the only anonymous data is no data. But it gets worse. StartPage includes advertisements from Google (these cannot be removed by uMatrix, only element hiding) on top of their search results page, and:

In order to enable the prevention of click fraud, some non-identifying system information is shared

Aaand the privacy train has been totally derailed! Now you have to trust StartPage's determination of what is non-identifying enough to be safe in Google's hands. Now they don't say exactly what that data consists of - but if it's the same set mentioned above that StartPage uses for their statistics, it would definitely leave the possibility of revealing someone thanks to browser fingerprinting. So StartPage sends potentially identifying data to Google. It's not all that bad though - at least they apparently don't store it themselves. And then there's this:

Any request will have to come from Dutch judicial authorities. We’ll only comply if we’re legally obliged to do so. But we’re not likely to receive requests by governments to hand over user data – simply because we don’t have any.

And:

We will never comply with any voluntary surveillance program

So it seems that, at least - you're pretty safe from the government's prying eyes. The other issue with StartPage are the absolutely terrible search results. That is because Google runs a massive censorship campaign (archive), deranking any alternative or conspiratorial content. This means you will even get results that don't relate to your query at all - and I've confirmed it with tests. Try searching for something like "was the Christchurch shooting faked" and you will see what I mean. Then compare with Qwant or DDG. I did this for many other queries which would result in displaying alternative or conspiratorial websites (if the search engine was honest, that is), but instead showed me irrelevant trash. Also, just like Google, it supports no other ways to search aside from Web and Images. StartPage works perfectly with JavaScript disabled and has the handy Anonymous View feature, allowing you to visit returned sites without revealing yourself to them (however, much functionality will be disabled).

Interestingly, a long time ago StartPage used to run a search engine called IxQuick that used their own index. I used that extensively when it was around and the results were pretty good AFAIK. Why did they take it down and submitted completely to the Google botnet? We could have had an actual privacy-based search engine with no dependency on the tech giants and no censorship (since StartPage doesn't seem to believe in it, unlike Qwant). But with the situation as is, I cannot recommend StartPage at all due to the censored results and sharing your system data with Google. Use only for emergencies when you really need Google's huge web index. UPDATE: actually, fuck that. StartPage just literally got bought by an advertising company (archive) and also ran a Mozilla-esque PR piece (archive) defending the acquisition. UPDATE November 2020: now they became totally authoritarian, hating TOR, VPNs and even private browsers:

StartPage blocking TOR

This reminds me of malicious Cloudflare browser checks, where they compare your setup to what they consider "safe" to decide whether to let you through. I found this out in November, but it's probably been around since earlier. To be honest, I've always felt something was off about these guys; their image was "too clean" if you know what I mean. Now we have proof that for them, privacy has only served as a useful slogan; they never actually gave a shit about it. Therefore, I can honestly advise to avoid these frauds completely now!

UPDATE March 2022: Perhaps I wasn't clear enough, so let me make a stronger statement. StartPage's (Google's) censorship is absolutely disgusting. You will find nothing but what your malicious rulers want you to find. No flat earth material, no COVID skepticism, no analyses of staged events like the so-called US capitol riot. StartPage will ignore your search query if it would result in unapproved opinions, it is nothing but a drip of propaganda. If you like being a slave, sure, keep using StartPage. But I'm a free man, and I throw mind controllers like StartPage into the trash!

Wiby icon Wiby.me Wiby icon

An interesting new search engine dedicated to lean, personal, old-school websites. Really recommend keeping an eye on that one - and you can literally support the creation of a better Internet by submitting websites to it (if you know a good one, you should really do that). No big corpos allowed here! Does not require JavaScript (actually, there is not a single script on its page). Keeps logs for 48 hours (archive), though.

DuckDuckGo icon DuckDuckGo DuckDuckGo icon

The search engine that doesn't track you! Or at least, that is what it claims. The marketing is slick and I must admit I fell for it initially and was a fan for a long time - but to be honest, there were always red flags. DuckDuckGo hosts a a privacy site (archive) with some great guides. They've refuted (archive) myths (archive) and went after giants like Google (archive) - always a plus in my mind and a huge reason to consider a provider trustworthy. Their Twitter account posts privacy stuff all the time, etc. At a glance, DDG appears as just a group of people like you and me, looking to protect their privacy and creating a service to do so (unlike Mozilla's in-your-face manipulation). Unfortunately, like the great magicians they are, they've made a really convincing illusion - but still an illusion; and I will show just how.

As I said, the red flags were always there. Gabriel Weinberg - the DuckDuckGo founder - used to run the Names Database, a social network allowing you to reconnect with your old friends from school. However, the most important feature - sending messages - was locked behind a paywall which could be bypassed if you invited 24 people to the network. They claimed that you could remove yourself from the database if you wanted to:

We enable people to remove themselves from The Names Database at any time, which instantly and automatically deletes any personal information associated with the profile removed from The Names Database.

However, the service did not really respect the user:

(e) The Terms may be modified only by Company posting changes to the Terms on Website. Each time User accesses Website, User will be deemed to have accepted any such changes in effect at the time of access.

Just by visiting the website you've accepted all its terms (what if they've included a line "we can kill you in your sleep") while you weren't looking? Haha.

(a) Company owns all information submitted to it, regardless of who or what submits it, what is submitted, or how or why it is submitted. Such information includes but is not limited to any and all information submitted by User or about User and any User Information submitted during membership or through the normal use of Website and the services available through it.

(b) Any successors or assignees of Company will by default acquire for their own use, in accordance with the Terms, all information collected by Company, including but not limited to all information associated with Website as specified in section 2(a) above.

So everything you submitted there ceased to become yours (or even if someone else posted your personal info), and could have been transferred to any other company. Later versions of the agreement contained even more egregious stuff such as:

Opobox reserves the right (but not the obligation) to remove or edit Your Information

you may NOT [...] (e) "meta-search" any Opobox Web Site; (f) forge headers or otherwise manipulate identifiers when communicating in any way with the Opobox Web sites [...] (j) use data mining or any data gathering or extraction tools; (k) copy, reproduce, modify, create derivative works from, distribute or publicly display any content (except for Your Information) from the Opobox Web Sites;

So I can't change my user agent; use wget, httrack or curl; or even take a screenshot of the site. Funny shit. And this is all stuff that the later DDG founder agreed to. Then he sold the database to another company, Classmates.com (archive), which added this to the agreement:

By registering on the Opobox Web Sites, as an added benefit you will also be automatically registered on Classmates.com, which is owned and operated by Classmates Online, Inc. ("Classmates"), Opobox's parent corporation. To complete this registration on Classmates.com, you consent to have Your Information provided to Classmates by Opobox. Classmates services are provided pursuant to its own Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

So the privacy guru that later founded DuckDuckGo sold all your data to an even more unethical company (archive). Did he have a sudden change of heart and created the uber-privacy-respecting DDG? Let's check it out:

DuckDuckGo used to claim in its privacy policy that no cookies are used by default, but some years ago it turned out they were setting a cookie from a third party, contrary to their policy. It was only on their help page and they fixed it quite fast. So is that all I've got? A cookie from ages ago?

In their Privacy Policy (archive) they proudly proclaim, in big letters, that they don't collect or share personal information. The big question here, of course, is what is meant by personal information. It turns out that, for DuckDuckGo at least, search queries alone are not personal - even if you search for something only you could know. I'm pretty sure most people would disagree with that. DuckDuckGo claims that it is fine if you don't store the user agent or IP address along with the search, though:

We also save searches, but again, not in a personally identifiable way, as we do not store IP addresses or unique User agent strings. We use aggregate, non-personal search data to improve things like misspellings.

What this non-personal search data consists of, is of course not stated. Is it really only the search queries DDG saves? We do know that, for example, DuckDuckGo tracks Pale Moon usage through a parameter in the search query (?t=palemoon), which is there by default. This also likely happens for their other partners (archive). Is that not already personal? Could it not be used to link your searches? The funny thing is, DuckDuckGo has spent much of their privacy policy criticizing Amazon for leaking their search queries (archive), which were able to be linked to single users because they fucked up their anonymization. Can you ensure this also couldn't be done for DuckDuckGo's saved searches? After all they do track other information as I've shown earlier. As DDG itself says (archive), The only truly anonymized data is no data - so why not just not store the search queries? From the techcrunch article:

The most serious problem is the fact that many people often search on their own name, or those of their friends and family, to see what information is available about them on the net. Combine these ego searches with porn queries and you have a serious embarrassment. Combine them with “buy ecstasy” and you have evidence of a crime. Combine it with an address, social security number, etc., and you have an identity theft waiting to happen. The possibilities are endless.

How long does DDG store the search queries? That is not explained! They do admit they will comply with court ordered legal requests. What could law enforcement do if they came across queries that only I could have searched for? Could those be used against me? No idea but I'd much rather not have that happen! Then, DuckDuckGo admits to running experiments on their users (archive):

First, you might notice that when you search DuckDuckGo, there may be an "&atb=" URL parameter in the web address at the top of your browser. This parameter allows us to anonymously A/B (split) test product changes we make to DuckDuckGo.

Second, we measure engagement of specific events on the page (e.g. when a misspelling message is displayed, and when it is clicked). This allows us to run experiments where we can test different misspelling messages and use CTR (click through rate) to determine the message's efficacy.

For example, our browser extensions and mobile apps will send an atb.js request with each search made. These requests allow us to count approximately how many devices accessed DuckDuckGo

That's quite a lot of information, and right after criticizing so-called anonymous data collection! This is exactly what I've criticized Mozilla for doing and in fact what prompted me to rewrite this whole section (and article). Gabriel Weinberg has shown himself to be hypocritical and broke trust on many occasions. For a recent one, he has put his shirt selling service behind Cloudflare (a MITM) without notifying the buyer in any way. So what's the final verdict on DDG?

There's no IP storage nor most of the other data search providers usually collect. Third party requests are not made. There is a JS-free version (results don't go beyond first page) and they do host a Tor hidden service (which blocks non-TBB browsers - tested with Iridium). For the non-privacy relevant stuff: the search results are really fucking good; Bing and Yahoo are used for them, as well as their own crawler. More than that - DDG displays "instant answers" from over than 400 different sources in the top right corner of the window. Has ads that can be disabled in the settings. In addition to regular sites, DDG can search for images, videos (YouTube results only) as well as news. However, digging deeper shows several serious issues with the founder's lack of reliability and trustworthiness. He clearly does not truly care about you or your privacy - as the recent Cloudflare inclusion shows. Being the great businessman that he is, he has pretended very effectively that he does and took great advantage of the recent privacy scares. So, if you care only about pure privacy / functionality, DDG is pretty good still - but due to the shaky ethical foundation and enough cracks if you look hard enough, I cannot recommend it as enthusiastically as I did before. You could say it's the Tutanota of search engines - good enough as an entry point, but you can do better. There is nothing out there even approaching the level of RiseUp's email service, though; so DuckDuckGo remains a viable option for regular usage still. UPDATE September 28, 2021 Now blocks Indian IPs due to some IT Act 2000 (presumably a law). UPDATE March 2022: they now censor Russian disinformation. Fuck them.

UPDATE June 2022: DuckDuckGo now includes a misinformation detector: Showing the DuckDuckGo misinformation detector in action Are they going to remind me to take my booster next? Earlier I have said DDG belongs in high tier despite the privacy and historical issues. But with the recent violations, CuckCuckGo belongs in the trash instead.

Qwant icon Qwant Qwant icon

UPDATE September 2021: French search engine using its own index plus Bing. As far as I can see, most of its flaws have been fixed. TOR and VPNs are accepted now. The search results are not being "eaten" anymore. JavaScript-free for all the categories, with a better interface than SearX. The side options have also been improved, with more sources for videos (Dailymotion in addition to YouTube) and news (but the social media and music categories have been deleted).

However, the privacy policy has been revised, and it's become worse. I suspect they are simply revealing what was the case all along. Anyway, let me analyze the updated privacy policy:

Qwant stores your search queries for 12 months, and for the first 7 days connects them to an unique identifier:

Qwant retains for 7 days the keyword(s) entered associated with a pseudonym identifier calculated from the User Agent of your browser and the salted hash of your IP address. After this period, the keywords are no longer associated to an identifier and are retained for 12 months for aggregate statistical analysis

Microsoft (this partner) gets your full IP and stores it for 18 months:

Qwant may also collect and transfer to this partner your full IP address.

This data is transferred to this partner within the European Union, and may be retained in accordance with Bing’s Privacy Policy for a maximum period of 18 months.

Qwant, also, collects pretty much everything in order to evaluate its audience:

I can't say I'm very impressed with their privacy policy, regardless of their front page posturing. Especially the Microsoft partnership is worrying. Anyway, let's check out their ToS (archive):

In the event that you notice content that may relate to apologies for crimes against humanity, provocation to or apologies for acts of terrorism, incitement to racial hatred, towards people on the basis of their sex, their sexual orientation or identity or handicap, child pornography, incitement to violence, attacks on human dignity, when browsing the Services, you have the option to let us know by contacting us at the address legal@qwant.com (also available at our FAQ).

All I need to know is here. Qwant accepts the removal of entries that violate their favorite victimhood issues. Wouldn't be surprised if they are also covid cucks who will remove alternative information about it.

What is the verdict, then? Privacy policy isn't that great anymore (Microsoft is getting your shit), but otherwise it's fine. The censorship is worrying but I haven't heard a practical case of it. UPDATE September 28, 2021: they now block Indian IPs since about a week ago. Gave a non-answer when asked about it:

Hello, this is a difficult decision, but we have decided to close access to our services in some countries where we feel we cannot provide the expected quality of service. We apologise for this. Best regards.

UPDATE March 2022: another bunch of cucks that censor so-called war propaganda (but only if it comes from Russia). Fuck them too.

MetaGer icon MetaGer MetaGer icon

This one from Germany also advertises itself as private, but it not only stores your IP...

For this purpose alone, we store the full IP address and a timestamp for a maximum of 96 hours

...but also shares a part of it with advertisers:

To receive this advertising, we give the first two blocks of the IP in connection with parts of the so-called user agent to our advertising partners.

Then, their website collects and stores the following data for up to one week:

Your IP-Address, Name and URL of the retrieved file, Date and time of access, The referrer you sent, The user agent you sent

So, as we can see, MetaGer is not so great for privacy. A later section says this:

When using the MetaGer plugin, the following data is generated:

IP-Adress: Will not be stored or shared.
User-Agent: Will not be stored or shared.

It would be easy to assume that searching through the MetaGer plugin (unlike their site) stores no logs, but that would be naive and wrong. In fact, the first sentence of the Accumulating data by context section disconfirms this interpretation:

When using our web search engine MetaGer via their web form or through their OpenSearch interface, the following data is generated:

And then comes the stuff about IP storage and everything. So, all the above means is that the plugin usage stores no additional data over what the site itself already does. So, MetaGer's privacy is not that good, but at least you do get a maps service that stores no logs:

When using the MetaGer map service, the following data is generated:

IP-Adress: Will not be stored or shared.
User-Agent: Will not be stored or shared.
Search query: Will not be stored or shared.
Location data: Will not be stored or shared.

UPDATE March 2022: I don't know why I ever said the search results aren't that great, because they are. I recommend using either the onion or the German mirror, as they include Yandex in their searchable index. This will find you some results the English version won't, though the onion will throw you a captcha sometimes. There is a great Open Anonymously feature, which means you can view the sites through MetaGer, instead of going to them directly (this is the same as StartPage's Anonymous View). MetaGer, also, has pretty good image results - which work with JS disabled, as everything else other than the maps. The privacy policy isn't great, but at least it's concise and contains no unnecessary posturing, which is commendable, I guess.

Jive Search (DEAD)

Another one with seemingly zero logging - we don't store your search terms, ip address nor information about your browser. - and even has a Tor domain. Supports searching only for regular sites (results sourced from Yandex - very high quality according to my short testing) and images (on the other hand, these suck). Provides Instant Answers similar to DDG and SearX, as well as proxy links (with JS stripped out to prevent tracking and deanonymization). As with Ecosia, MetaGer and StartPage - relying on a single source for the results, regardless of its quality, is subject to eventual bias and censorship. That, as well as absolutely zero customizability (can't change the basic, ugly default theme, or even turn off autocomplete) means it's probably worse than DDG. Edit: bumping it down since the amount of results is being cut off for some reason. Apparently the engine itself contains much more functionality - but the actual instance sucks, and that is what I'm rating.

Mojeek icon Mojeek Mojeek icon

I'm just going to rewrite this. In an age of widespread censorship, Mojeek is significant because it is focused on unbiased search results:

Mojeek doesn't have an agenda, and neither does it support any particular view, whether that's in regard to politics or if blue is a nicer colour than green. And that's the way we believe search engines should be. Our task is to provide you with relevant search results, not to force a point of view on you, or hide ones we don't agree with.

As far as I know, no other search engine makes this commitment. Mojeek can do so because it is using their own index, instead of relying on the censoring violators. Though the results are not as good in terms of e.g scientific or technical queries, they're a lot better than I remember them being a few years ago. And - in an age of mind control - a hard stance against censorship is more important than slightly weaker results. JavaScript is not required at all, even for images. What about their privacy? They don't store IPs:

IP addresses are not recorded, instead the IP address is replaced with a simple two letter code indicating the visitors country of origin.

There is also no third party sharing:

The remaining log data (country, time/date, page requested, referral data, and in a separate log browser data), which although now contains no identifiable data, would still in no situation whatsoever be sold or distributed to any third party vendors

This is better than what almost everyone else is doing. Please remember that any search engine proxy (such as StartPage or SearX) has to by definition send the requests to the search engine it is proxying. This means a violator gets at least your query, and probably browser data and the other stuff. Mojeek can avoid this due to using their own index, and keep the data only for themselves. It does store logs though (the ones given above) and the duration of data storage is not stated. Still, finally we have an independent, non-censoring search engine that at least somewhat cares about your privacy.

Ecosia icon Ecosia Ecosia icon

UPDATE June 2021: now Cloudflared, and therefore useless. Their claim to fame has been planting trees for every 45 searches (that's an average) you make using their service - but this, of course, relies on Bing ads being displayed (and I doubt it can counter the rampant deforestation, anyway). It's not very private by default - For example, when you do a search on Ecosia we forward the following information to our partner, Bing: IP address, user agent string, search term, and some settings like your country and language setting. However, it claims to respect the DNT header: If you have "Do Not Track" enabled in your browser settings we do not collect any analytics data. Most other websites ignore this setting - we think users should have a choice. Is the IP address apart of analytics data? Depending on how literally the DNT information is interpreted, Ecosia can become a pretty good choice, combining ethics and privacy (okay, this clearly isn't relevant now after Ecosia became Cuckflared). You can search for regular sites, Images, Videos, News and Maps. However, the search results are sourced exclusively from Bing. Will work without JavaScript but the images will not be displayed at all.

Oscobo icon Oscobo Oscobo icon

UPDATE September 2022: can almost never get this to search anymore. An allegedly private one with a not-so-good privacy policy (last updated 2 years ago...). It proudly proclaims several times how it doesn't store information in a way that can identify you (can you be any more vague), however the myth that this is a privacy-respecting practice has been busted (archive). And they don't actually say what they DO store and for how long - an indirect admission that they do store quite a bit of data indeed. Then comes this gem: Oscobo uses cookies to determine the effectiveness of our own marketing campaigns. And the funniest thing is I don't see any cookies being set in my uMatrix (outdated privacy policy, as mentioned before; however, it does show they did that at one point, or at least planned to do so). Then it says: Oscobo uses proprietary technology to hide you search history from others who may use your device after you search. This may save you from some embarrassing situations But I see the search queries in my browsing history, plain as a day - so this claim was a mistake too (and a negative one this time). Oscobo can search for images (flickr only - almost useless), videos and maps (embedding google directly, yawn); it doesn't require JavaScript but images won't show up then. Anyway, due to the issues mentioned earlier, this search engine does not seem trustworthy at all, and I don't recommend it. It has nothing over the more widely known ones and for something even funnier, it contains a direct link to some shady "Oscobo Browser" executable file. Haha - avoid.

Discrete Search icon Discrete Search Discrete Search icon

UPDATE March 2022: This trash doesn't work anymore in Pale Moon or Librewolf. I have no idea why I even checked it out, but there you go.

To work properly, this one needs all of cookies, JavaScript and XHR enabled. What do you get for that? Let's check out their privacy policy (archive):

Discrete Search does not track search history in any user identifiable way.

The big lie of so-called private search engines rears its ugly head again. The reply is the same as to Oscobo - "user identifiable" is vague and often includes a lot of information that can reveal you if put together (archive). Why not just mention what the fuck do you store and let us decide whether we're comfortable with it? Graciously, Discrete Search DOES provide that information later (unlike Oscobo):

Additionally, we store aggregated search data to improve product performance, but never store IP addresses or unique user identifiers in connection with such searches in order to ensure that none of the information collected in connection with your search activity is personally identifiable.

So aggregated search data is logged; the important part comes next though. If you read between the lines, they admit that they do store your IP address as well as unique user identifiers, just allegedly unconnected with search queries. And that is what you call private? No thanks! Why rely on someone's dubious "unconnecting" when they could just not store the data? And Discreet Search does seem to store a lot of it, increasing the risk. Then there's this gem from the TOS (archive):

You certify that you own all intellectual property rights in Your Content. You hereby grant us, our affiliates, and our partners a worldwide, irrevocable, royalty-free, nonexclusive, sub-licensable, license to use, reproduce, create derivative works of, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, transfer, transmit, distribute, and publish Your Content and subsequent versions of Your Content for the purposes of (i) pursuing our business interests, (ii) distributing Your Content, either electronically or via other media, to third parties seeking to download or otherwise acquire it, and/or (iii) storing Your Content in a remote database accessible by third parties. This license shall apply to the distribution and the storage of Your Content in any form, medium, or technology now known or later developed.

TL;DR everything you submit or transmit to the engine becomes theirs (not just queries but stuff like the headers your browser sends), and they are going to store it in unspecified third party databases. Ha ha. Discrete Search puts fucking image ads on top of your searches - a practice I've never seen anywhere else. At least they've fulfilled the promise of encrypting your searches locally, unlike Oscobo (yeah I've checked). Still, avoid this trainwreck.

Gibiru icon Gibiru Gibiru icon

Claims to be Protecting Your Privacy Since 2009 on its main page. If you read their privacy policy, it all checks out - Gibiru stores no logs or cookies. Of course, what they've neglected to mention is that they literally use Google directly for their results (without proxying them, like StartPage does or Scroogle used to). Gibiru will not work without enabling Google scripts, and so all the data that it allegedly doesn't collect, Google will happily take instead. Unfortunately - as you can see - search engines have their fair share of frauds too. Avoid!

Gigablast icon Gigablast Gigablast icon

Independent search engine, ran since the year 2000. Gigablast's index is surprisingly good, and it does not appear to censor (same as Mojeek). However, it requires JavaScript to display results. Image search shows only thumbnails alongside text, no "gallery" like everyone else does, so you will need to use something else for images if you want that functionality. No third party requests, good privacy policy, preventing third party sharing of your data and deleting logs regularly - though that is not elaborated on.

Peekier icon Peekier Peekier icon

When I learned of Peekier after rating some less-than-stellar search engines, I was delighted to finally find another one that respects the user. There is no IP storage, no third party requests, no logging the data your browser sends (aside from temporary search queries - same policy as DuckDuckGo). It also has the handy feature of displaying the resulting website without visiting it - showing you the relevant information in an efficient way. And then I see this:

Cloudflare, our caching provider, may use a single session cookie for anti-DDOS measures.

Okay, so while YOU might not store anything, Cloudflare - hiding in the shadows between you and me - will happily take it all. And this claim, then, becomes a lie:

SSL/TLS is enforced throughout the website. No unencrypted information is transmitted over the internet.

Because Cloudflare decrypts the request on their servers, it cannot be said that the information is encrypted for its whole journey. Since Cloudflare might be the biggest current Internet evil (archive), I cannot just let this seemingly small point slide. Of course, Peekier also claims it does not use cookies in any way to track you or store personally identifiable data, but it does require a Cloudflare cookie to work (which is literally a tracking cookie), as well as enabling JavaScript. And that, my friends, ruins a search engine that could have topped the list.

FindX icon FindX FindX icon

I wasn't supposed to review any more search engines, but this one is doing such a great Mozilla impersonation (pretending to be private with the reality being otherwise) that I just had to do this writeup. To be honest, I have never heard of FindX and likely would not have if a reader didn't mention it to me - but the level of its privacy fakery is so great that it deserves a proud spot as the last entry in this report. Let's check out their About page (archive) first:

Findx is a search engine for users who value privacy. We do not collect information about you when you perform searches, unlike most other search engines. Please read the details in our Privacy Policy. If you worry about companies creating invisible profiles of you based on your searches and internet browsing habits - Findx is for you.

The other stuff in there is not very relevant. Remember the above quotes while we inspect their Privacy policy (archive). It starts with the usual GDPR stuff, but interestingly, it seems to try to squirm out of, or not explain properly, many of those rights you allegedly have. For example:

You can request that we restrict usage of your personal data. We are only required to comply in certain circumstances.

And from Section 9:

We may ask you for additional information to confirm your identity and for security purposes, before disclosing the PII requested to you. We reserve the right to charge a fee where permitted by law, for instance if your request is manifestly unfounded or excessive.

Now compare the above with how Qwant treats GDPR (archive). But since I don't put much value into these laws at all, let's move on to the more important sections - namely 3.2 Findx Search, which will tell us what their engine actually collects.

[...] data is transferred to our search partners who only use it to provide better search results on Findx

So one "partner" wasn't enough, there had to be two - CodeFuel and Microsoft. FindX also shamelessly claims that Microsoft values your privacy - can you believe it? Anyway, what is the data being sent?

IP address, user agent string, search term, country and language settings, filter settings for adult content, active search filter settings (e.g. page number information), an optional Bing ID (read more below) and the ID of the organization that should benefit from your search.

So the privacy-respecting FindX shares pretty much everything possible with not one, but two third parties! Do they have an explanation for that? Sure they do - but I'm warning you - this will be one of the most idiotic things you've ever read on the Internet. Better wear a helmet, because the stupidity beam is coming!

"But you still pass on my IP-address to CodeFuel and Bing". Yes, we have to. We protect your privacy to the maximum extent allowed under the agreement we have with them. Other privacy-centric search engines mask part of your IP-address before passing it on to their partners - we are not allowed to do that. It is a matter of trust. You have to trust that the privacy search engines do not pass on your full IP-address to their partners. On Findx, you have to trust that our partners only use it for what thay say they will, which is to provide better results on our site (only) - nothing else. We trust them.

Wow, I've been hit with a hurricane of nonsense and I'm so confused I don't even know where to start with this. They literally admit to being worse than all other search engines - since those (such as Swisscows or StartPage) actually limit the data sent to the providers they use. FindX just says fuck that and dumps all your info onto Bing, then tells you to just trust their partners to honor an agreement that is never really specified aside from vague claims of "better search results". Sounds dangerously close to Mozilla's improve your experience while they abuse all your data. And why would Microsoft submit to some small fry like FindX? It's more likely they just do whatever the fuck they want with your stuff. What about the other partner, CodeFuel?

When search results are displayed, tracking pixels reveal to our search partner which of the results and ads we received were actually seen by you. Our partner, CodeFuel, solely uses this information for building metrics for us and statistics about the service usage. The information is not sold or shared with advertising companies. It simply provides us with information about earnings and various statistics like how many searches resulted in display of ads, how many unique users performed searches, how many results were clicked on etc.

So, FindX assures us that the data collection of CodeFuel is pretty mild. But their privacy policy (archive) tells a different story:

Certain usage related information regarding your use and interaction with your device, including the Software & Services and Other Software, such as when and how you Use the Software & Services and Other Software, how you use your internet browser and internet search related applications, your language settings, the web pages you visit, applications you use and the content you see, access and utilize on such web pages and applications; for example, offerings and advertisements that you view, use and access, how you use them and your response to them (ie. clickstream data), how frequently you use them, your search queries and the non-precise location, time and date of your searches

Even though FindX explicitly claims in their FAQ (archive) that this data is not shared with third parties...

CodeFuel acts as a 'middle-man' between small to medium-sized partners and Microsoft, and passes the data on to them in order to serve search results and ads. CodeFuel uses this information themselves to build metrics and statistics about the service usage. The information is not sold to or shared with anybody

CodeFuel does directly state several times that they do so:

In performing fraud detection and prevention, we use the services of third parties who will receive and access your PII.

We also use your PII to comply with legal and regulatory requirements [...] For this purpose, we may share your information with law enforcement or other competent authorities and any third party [...] We will also share this information with our professional advisors in the scope of this purpose.

We may also share your information with our subsidiaries, affiliated and parent companies pursuant to the legitimate interest for the provision of the Software & Services to you but their use of such information must comply with this Privacy Policy.

So two "partners" turned into who the fuck knows how many. There is way more dirt on FindX - their website also collects a bunch of data, TOS pretty much makes you a slave, etc. But I don't want to spend more time on this shitty search engine than absolutely necessary. Needless to say, it's not at all private and in fact, it's probably better to use Bing directly since FindX sends everything there anyway while also running their own spy operation (not to mention CodeFuel and their partners also laying their dirty hands on your data). This is probably the most dishonest search engine out there, rivaling VFEmail and Hushmail in their shamelessness.

UPDATE September 2022: wow, FindX even manages to only give a few results (does not go beyond page 1), and it seems they are all censored (no conspiracy results). Truly the worst search engine in the world.

Marginalia

No idea what this is, except that it is Cloudflared, and therefore useless.

You

Same as above.

WebCrawler

Same as above.

Search my Site

Same as above.

MillionShort

Same as above.

Spyda

Same as above.

Excite

Same as above.

4Conservative

Same as above.

GoodGopher

A search engine that rejects mainstream sites. Could be cool, but is unfortunately Cloudflared.

Summary

So, the first edition of this summary was overly positive. I was eager to finally share some good news after the stuff on Mozilla, Proton, and others dirtied the privacy climate. However, I severely overestimated the situation and way overrated several search engines such as StartPage, MetaGer and DuckDuckGo. The main issue is that all of them lack their own index, meaning they are fully dependent on the violators. The ones who do use their own index have weak results. This already proves that the situation is worse than with browsers (which has the independent Pale Moon as well as various other smaller, less viable projects) or E-mail. Not only is there no provider approaching the quality of RiseUp mail - but even the second-tier of E-mail providers (such as Posteo or Dismail) outclass the best search engines. The field is also rife with frauds, similar to E-mail. What's a poor user to do, then? It would be best to pull the plug and deal with the inconvenience of terrible results, though of course it's hard to actually do that. However, the situation won't improve until we support the independent search engines. So, use Mojeek and Wiby to accomplish that. If you're not prepared to ditch the violators, a good SearX instance is your best bet. I recommend weaning yourself off Google since they're so heavily censored, therefore StartPage is out. The wounded privacy warrior marches on, scraping by until a decent provider finally comes along...

Engine / FeatureRequires JavaScriptOwn indexSupports TORHas onion domainIP storageSearch resultsCensorshipShares data with third parties
SwisscowsYesNoNoNoNoGoodMildYes
Brave SearchFor imagesDoubtfulSometimesYesNoAverageExtremeNo
SearXNoNoYesConditionalConditionalGoodNoneNo
StartPageNoNoNoNoNoGoodExtremeNo
WibyNoYesYesNoYesBadNoneNo
DuckDuckGoNoPartialYesYesYesGoodMildNo
QwantNoPartialYesNoYesGoodMildYes
MetagerNoNoYesYesYesGoodNoneNo
MojeekNoYesYesNoNoAverageNoneNo
EcosiaFor imagesNoNo (CF)NoYesGoodNoneYes
OscoboFor imagesNoYesNoUnknownGoodMildYes
Discrete SearchYesNoYesNoYesGoodNoneYes
GibiruYesNoNoNoNoGoodExtremeYes
GigablastYesYesYesNoYesAverageNoneNo
PeekierYesPartialNo (CF)NoYesGoodNoneYes
FindXNoNoYesNoPossibleBadExtremeYes
MarginaliaCloudflare so who cares lol
You
WebCrawler
Search my Site
MillionShort
Spyda
Excite
4Conservative
GoodGopher

Explanation of issues:

You might be wondering as to why I didn't review the Cloudflared engines properly. That is because using Cloudflare is such a big flaw that the other qualities of the search engine don't even matter. Cloudflare is a third party that MitMs your connection and steals your search query and all other sent data, blocks TOR, and is also able to rewrite the served page without you knowing. I can't see anything possibly worse than that.

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