What’s a Private Search Engine? (And Why You Really Need One)

Anonymous and private search engines allow you to reclaim your data from popular search engines, which create profiles of you they then use for profit.
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Online trackers follow you all around the internet, whether you’re on your Windows PC or Android phone. This isn’t some tinfoil-hat theory to make you paranoid — it’s verified and easy to prove. Search for something on Amazon, and you’ll later see an ad for it on your Facebook or Instagram.

Private browsing helps you reclaim some of your anonymity by operating without storing information. Whether you’d like to cut down on creepily specific advertisements or help reduce your digital footprint, an anonymous search engine is a good tool to add to your privacy arsenal. Keep reading to see the best search engines that hide your browsing history while maintaining your search experience, plus recommendations for the best ad blockers and top VPN apps to keep your data anonymous.

In this article
Reasons to use a private search engine
8 best private search engines
How to choose a private search engine
Private search engine FAQ
Bottom line

Reasons to use a private search engine

When you enter information into Google Search, it creates records of what you’re searching. This is true of Yahoo, Bing, and any other default search engine. If you ever wondered how these sites make money, the answer is your data. Once they’ve created a user profile of you, they can barter that information for compensation without regard for user privacy. You’re then fed a host of targeted ads, content similar to what you’ve viewed, and even experimental content designed to test how vulnerable you are to manipulation.

A private search engine can stop all that data collecting. Some are offered as an additional feature to security software you’ve purchased, like a virtual private network (VPN), password manager, or even your antivirus software. Some are independent, like DuckDuckGo. All of them are better than incognito mode, which doesn’t actually hide as much as you think.

A good private search engine should stop the recording of some of the following data:

  • IP addresses
  • User agents
  • Unique identifiers found in cookies
  • Search terms
  • Browser fingerprints
  • Location information

Using a private search engine can have its downfalls. People like targeted content that caters to their preferences. Using a private search engine means you won’t see as many relevant results. It also means your search engine won’t remember you or your habits, so you’ll lose convenience features like suggested search terms.

The dip in convenience is worth it to hide your online search history from your internet service provider (ISP) and other potential lurkers. A private search engine could reduce your chance of being attacked by an online hacker or an in-person criminal since it doesn’t store IP or location information. While in-person attacks might be theoretical, it’s completely possible that an online hacker could be watching your online activities or checking if your IP is pinging off a location other than where you live to know when you’re home.

8 best private search engines

You can use a private search engine with private browsers or with your current browser, like Safari's private browser or Firefox. They’re user-friendly, eschew data collection, and offer functionality with browser integration and browser extensions. Most private search engines will help you reclaim your data. Check out our picks and see which one meets your needs.

1. DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo allows you to search the web without being tracked by its search engine. It also has measures in place to stop other websites from tracking your online activity. It keeps no user profiles, and there’s no way to track an individual’s search history or what websites they visited.

DuckDuckGo appreciates privacy and encryption. It goes even further with a feature called “Smarter Encryption” that crawls the web for secure sites with https:// rather than the unsecured http:// web address. This means multiple levels of encryption, especially if you’re using a VPN.

2. Startpage

Based in the Netherlands, Startpage hosts a locked cabinet full of servers that act as your first defense against trackers and snooping. These servers remove your personal data from your searches. Next, your search is put through a second set of servers without any personal information attached. 

Because you’ve been able to search without any identifying information, the search results returned to you are the same for anyone who would search that topic. Since Startpage doesn’t allow your personal information to be tracked, search topics are organic rather than targeted.

Going the extra mile, Startpage offers the Anonymous View proxy feature that allows for complete anonymity while searching. The icing on the cake is the lack of logs kept by Startpage. Nothing you search for will ever be stored. With all of this protection, Startpage has made a name for itself as a reliable private search engine that offers complete anonymity.

3. Searx

Searx can be used with a Tor browser, which means you’ll enjoy some serious privacy. Tor is still detectable by your ISP, but couple it with Searx and a VPN, and everything about your internet usage will be private.

Searx provides you with a true metasearch experience by aggregating over 70 search engine results. And don’t worry, Searx is a self-hosted search engine without any trackers or profiling, so you’re getting all the protection of a private search engine with additional features.

4. Swisscows

Swisscows wants to give you a private search that your kids can also use. Parental controls usually have to be configured through other software. This search engine chose instead to make all of its searches family-friendly. If you value your privacy and your children’s privacy, Swisscows is offering it all.

5. Qwant

Qwant states it gathers as little information as possible, but we’d prefer none. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a safe private search engine. The data is saved on your personal device, so you can enjoy some integrated user experience through online recommendations and targeted ads. If you want more privacy but don’t want to give up some of the benefits of stored data, this is likely a good compromise.

6. MetaGer

MetaGer is part of a non-profit organization committed to promoting media literacy. Like Searx, MetaGer is a metasearch engine that aggregates search results from over 11 search engines. It’s also a search engine with a social conscience, using only clean energy to power its company. If all that isn’t enough, this private search engine is also open-source because it believes so strongly in the freedom of knowledge.

7. Mojeek

Mojeek takes pride in being the first search engine to offer a non-tracking privacy policy. The search engine provides so much more, though, as it focuses on speed and independent search results. Mojeek doesn’t use other search engines to aggregate results, as it maintains its own index.

Since Mojeek ranks search queries differently than other search engines, you’ll likely see vastly different results than if you used a regular search engine. If you like a variety of options, this could be great. If you want more aggregated results, this may not be for you.

8. Ecosia

If you’re looking to search with purpose, Ecosia may be for you. It directs all of its profits to combat deforestation around the globe by planting trees and helping to restore ecosystems. While keeping your data anonymous, it’s also helping you make better ecological decisions. Ecosia will show you what search results are eco-friendly and which are the biggest polluters.

How to choose a private search engine

We picked these search engines because they all have strong reputations for being private and secure. When picking your private search engine, look out for certain privacy features like no logging and anti-tracking technology. Then consider a search engine with extra features like Ecosia’s ecological efforts, Swisscow’s family-friendly searches, or extreme privacy like you get with DuckDuckGo, Startpage, and Searx.

For a truly private experience, make sure your search engine doesn’t save user data.

User data that should be anonymous includes:

  • IP address
  • User agents
  • Unique identifiers (cookies)
  • Search terms
  • Websites visited
  • Browser fingerprints
  • Location information

Tips to browse anonymously

Browsing the web is a standard method these days to find the information you're looking for — on practically any subject. But as you collect data about a topic, your search engine is likely collecting data about you. Here are some strategies to be more anonymous as you search.

  • Don’t give away clues about yourself online.
  • Keep your social media profiles private, and only add friends you’ve met in real life.
  • Don’t post pictures of yourself or your loved ones on the open, public internet. Make sure any images you share have the metadata removed.
  • Be mindful of how and what you’re commenting online. There are entire TikTok accounts dedicated to finding people who think they’re anonymous. It’s scary and will make you rethink how you post.
  • Clear your cache and cookies when you’re done browsing.
  • Always deny all but necessary cookies when prompted by a website.
  • Visit the “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” links offered by websites and opt out of data sales manually or with an automatic removal service like DeleteMe.
  • Opt out of targeted ads if prompted — or use an ad blocker like Total Adblock or NordVPN Threat Protection to block trackers and ads automatically.

If you really want an anonymous online experience, stack your private search engine with a VPN service and a private web browser. NordVPN, Surfshark, ExpressVPN, and Private Internet Access all offer great security and are tried and true. 

Brave Browser, DuckDuckGo’s private browser, and Tor are all tested private browsers that help keep you anonymous.

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Private search engine FAQ


What’s the difference between a search engine and a browser?

A search engine is a website, while a browser is a tool. Popular browsers include:

  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Edge
  • Safari on macOS or iOS
  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Opera
  • Tor

A search engine is a website you use in a browser to search content, like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo.


Is Incognito mode the same as a private search engine?

It’s supposed to be, but it’s not. Technically, Incognito mode should offer all the protection that a private search engine does, but it’s been proven that Incognito mode isn’t as private as you may think. Google was sued to the tune of $5 billion in 2020 for violating the privacy people thought they had with Incognito. If you really want privacy, you should opt for a private search engine.


Do I need both a VPN and a private search engine?

It really depends on your goal, but as an overall suggestion, yes. A VPN is going to mask your traffic from prying eyes. It can even help you stop your internet service provider (ISP) from throttling your home internet. A private search engine is focused more on creating privacy on an individual machine or helping you reduce your digital footprint.

Bottom line

Online privacy is a spectrum that you get to determine for yourself. Using private search engines allows you to keep your data private. A search engine like Swisscows will help keep your kids anonymous, while one like DuckDuckGo will guard your privacy like it’s locked in a steel box.

Whichever you choose, make sure you’re doing what you can to guard your privacy. No one should make money by creating a secret profile of you. You wouldn’t work in an Amazon warehouse for free, so don’t let Google, Meta, or anyone else use your personal and online data for profit.

Check out our guides on the best VPNs and best ad blocker apps for more ways to protect your data and block trackers that follow you across the internet.

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Author Details
Mary is a seasoned cybersecurity writer with over seven years of experience. With a B.S. in Liberal Arts from Clarion University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Point Park University, she educates audiences on scams, antivirus software, and more. Her passion lies in educating audiences on helpful ways to protect their data.