If you’ve been online in the last ten years and attempted to search for anything, you’ll definitely have come across Google at some point. If you’re anything like us, you’ll have noticed that the quality of Google’s search results, and the ease with which you’re able to find what you were looking for, is generally a lot better than those of any rival search service. Other services offering similar things have come and gone, but none have thrived quite as well as Google has. There are so few well-known competitors to Google, in fact, that we had to dig deep for alternatives.
One of the main reasons Google’s grown so big is thanks to its business model. In a nutshell, the company collects the data generated by the billions of searches it serves up every day, and sells it to third-party advertisers who then put together targeted advertising campaigns designed to reach the most receptive audience. These companies are the reason you’ll see advertisements on the sites you visit, advertising the kinds of services and products that are most likely to appeal to you.
This may sound innocuous to most, but the problem with Google’s data-gathering activities can pose a huge privacy risk to anyone who uses the search engine, especially as it has the potential to personally identify individuals and their internet habits. Google, of course, states publicly that it “cares deeply about the security of [its] users’ data” and that it will only “disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and [reviews] all such requests carefully.”
That’s all well and good – and to be expected of any big corporation in today’s litigation-happy world – but thanks to some recent news the possibility is now that information is being gathered via big internet companies, with or without their knowledge. On June 6, 2013, ex-CIA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the US government has been running a covert data-gathering operation since 2007. According to Snowden, PRISM is the code name for the portion of the programme responsible for collecting data via the internet, and in the original briefing to the Washington Post and The Guardian it was revealed that “98 percent of PRISM production is based on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft”.
Suffice it to say, the privacy of individuals, particularly with regard to their internet activity, is currently being perceived to be under threat. As a result normal, everyday people are looking for alternatives to the search engines and internet services they’ve been using for years, specifically ones that offer far more guaranteed privacy and anonymity than the big-name players do.
We went in search of 5 alternative search engines anyone can use in place of Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any of the other big names. You will definitely compromise on the quality of the search results, and finding the exact info you want may require a little more digging than it would using Google, Bing, et al, but you can use these services in the comforting knowledge that your search queries and browsing history won’t be tracked, stored, analysed or sold.
Ixquick is a meta search engine. That means it uses other search engines on your behalf, and all search queries appear, to those other search engines, to come directly from Ixquick and not from you. It’s like a young boy asking his girlfriend’s best friend what her favourite colour is – he will still get his answer, but his girlfriend won’t necessarily know it’s him doing the asking. Ixquick’s results return quickly, and they are quite comprehensive given that more than one search engine is queried. Ixquick doesn’t feature the same touches Google does, so it doesn’t perform currency conversions, look up sports results, or offer other typically-Googled results easily available right at the top of the results page, but the extra privacy is worth the sacrifice.
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that is a lot more serious than the name suggests, and as a result it is an unexpectedly good Google alternative. It’s both secure and functional, with results that are likely to be most pertinent displayed in a small box above the rest of the data. This allows you to potentially find what you want with just one click. DuckDuckGo’s results are still not as refined as Google’s, but the company’s tag line is “Google tracks you. We don’t.” which is worth a lot more than the convenience of seeing sports results right away. Also, shortly after the PRISM story broke, the guys behind DuckDuckGo reported a big spike in the number of visitors to the site.
Factbites uses topic-based searches to find results, and as such it battles a bit with the kind of everyday thing we’re used to, er, Googling. It works best when asked questions, and returns search results that are more academic than those of other search engines. By comparison, Google returns a wider array of results which are generally more relevant to the individual searcher, but then that’s because Google bases those on information gathered about the individual searcher that isn’t available to other engines because they don’t set out to collect it.
Clusty is a meta search engine that was recently acquired by internet services company Yippy. It offers another private way to search the web,with the company promising on its About page that it doesn’t collect personal data or search histories – or anything whatsoever, to sell to third parties. Its results are a little overwhelming at first, with a long list of categories appearing along the left edge of the results page, but those categories allow you to filter results which works out quite useful the more you use it. Again, it doesn’t do the pretty things Google does with results, but it’s totally private.
Blekko is the search engine to use if you hate spam, ad-sponsored search results and having your personal information tracked. It offers some of the nicest-looking search results of any of the alternatives in our list, and best of all their results are as pure as pure can be with absolutely no tracking involved. Search results are categorised by Top Results, News and Social, with a string of images located beneath the main list. It’s just a pity about the silly (not in a fun way) name.
These five Google alternatives won’t track anything about you, your search queries, or anything that could be used to advertise directly to you. More importantly, they won’t create a profile of your online habits for close scrutiny by intelligence-gathering organisations. You’ll miss out on some of Google’s more refined features, but anyone interested in keeping their private information private will surely not mind.
Found any others that you like more than the five alternatives listed here? Let us know in the comments.