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Online Privacy Best Practices for Searching

Last updated on February 23, 2021

Nearly everyone I know uses Google. If you’re at all concerned about cybercrime, censorship, stop using Google products. Stop using free online services. Reading any reputable post about online privacy best practices will give the same advice. Mainstream search engines utilize something known as the filter bubble. The filter bubble is erroneous, unethical, and divisive.

Online Privacy Best Practices

If two people search for the same thing using Google, they’re very likely to see different results. Searching for Coronavirus for example may result in links to cases/fatalities/CDC updates etc for one person. The other may receive links to 5G, conspiracy theories, Bill Gates’ nefarious activities, etc. Searching for General Flynn in Chrome, Duck Duck Go, StartPage, or Tor will all return different results.

The filter bubble is an algorithm per se that provides search results contingent upon user data. Search results are based on videos watched, playlists, browser history, social media, and much more. Google, the other big three, and a slew of unheard of companies create profiles on each and every one of us. Thus, tailoring our online experience. Big search keeps us in a bubble.

The problem with the filter bubble is we don’t know what we don’t know. Filter bubble powered search engines don’t show opposing viewpoints. Results are based on who we are. It’s like a journalist telling us only what we want to hear. The filter bubble is a disturbing concept. One that Google’s even admitted to.

StartPage

One may ask what to use in place of Google search? Six alternatives are SearX, Duck Duck Go, StartPage, Onion, Ahmia, and Not Evil. StartPage provides Ixquick and Google search results. It’s also owned by an advertising company. Why am I listing StartPage under online privacy best practices then? Because it’s better than most. How so?

StartPage search engine home page

The company is based in the Netherlands, where privacy standards are high. Ixquick has been called the most powerful meta search engine on the web. They have an interesting history you can quickly read about on Wikipedia or on StartPage. They have some fancy certification by a European privacy centered organization. Plus, they have a really cool, fascinating blog, people like you and me would be very much interested in reading.

StartPage doesn’t take note of your IP address. Nor does it pass your user data on to Google before fetching search results. It provides an optional proxy, making users somewhat anonymous. The software is maintained independently, eliminating the need for third party $$. It gives you the option to remove your search results from logs. My understanding of this, is that you’re kept out of websites using analytics that show where users found a site from. There’s other interesting non tech savvy settings.

SearX

SearX is a very interesting, and unique search engine. It’s known as a metasearch engine. Meaning, it bases its results upon other search engine results. Up to 82 different search engines! Users can even set which search engines to use, by category. As of a 2019 reporting, Google seems to be blocking certain queries from SearX.

Their goal is clear. Protect user privacy. I was shocked upon discovering this in an online privacy best practices book. It’s never been mentioned in any relative post I’ve ever read. SearX does not share IP addresses or browser history. Cookies are blocked.

Searx home page indicative of online privacy best practices

Get this, when a Google user clicks a result link, they’re actually redirected to the site. All Google links are housed in a container, thus capturing troves of data in the process. It’s like a filthy middleman that takes a piece of the product. SearX serves users with actual website links. So it’s more of a peer to peer network of links. There is no middle man in SearX.

Moreover, clicking a link doesn’t always require visiting the desired site. When available, users will be served a cached version. Also when available, users will view the live page through a proxy. What’s more, is each link shows where it came from. Imagine pulling up to a gas station. One pump says the gas came from the US. Another says Saudi Arabia. A third pump says China. Choose who you want to purchase your gasoline from. Read more about this fascinating project here.

Duck Duck Go

Cons: Results don’t have dates. Users complain about the lack of imagery. Search results aren’t always the best. They know where you came from and do not carry fancy third party certificates. It’s hosted on Amazon, based in the US, and uses a variety of search engines for queries.

DuckDuckGo positions itself as a search engine that puts privacy first and as such it does not store IP addresses, does not log user information, and uses cookies only when required. Gabriel Weinberg, creator of DuckDuckGo, states: “By default, DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information. That is our privacy policy in a nutshell.” They maintain logs of all search terms used “though not in a personally identifiable way.

Wikipedia

Let’s refer to Duck Duck Go as… Pancakes. Duck Duck Go is too long to type and it’s about as relative to ‘search results’ as Pancakes. If anyone knows who came up with this ridiculous name, I’d love to know in the comments below. According to their privacy page, Pancakes sincerely cares about user privacy. In turn, users are NOT subject to the divisive filter bubble.

Duck duck go home page

Angel fairy music plays here followed by bright lights.

Pancakes has infinite scroll, eliminating the need to click for the next 10 results. They have an onion site, meaning you can search the Dark Web via Pancakes. I’m quite satisfied with search results and I’m a jaded, picky, SOB these days. Pancakes offers unique search tools. Spend a few minutes searching for things you usually search for and you’ll see how the interface offers suggestions and results in a unique way. Users can disable advertisements. When showing though, ads do not have tracking abilities.

With all this being said, I’d say Pancakes is a good solution because of their privacy policy. Which sounds good. You be the judge as to whether it’s truthful of not. Not utilizing the filter bubble is also a big bonus. Regardless, anything in my opinion is better than Google search. I’d certainly add Pancakes to my repertoire of online privacy best practices.

Ahmia search home page

Ahmia

Ahmia.fi is a lesser known search engine. It’s built utilizing the Tor network. Meaning, it’s built with anonymity at it’s core. Anything merely associated with Tor is immediately lumped into online privacy best practices. The software searches the deep web or sometimes called the dark net. It’s known as a great platform for newbies to the digital underground. Ahmia makes searching the deep web a seamless process.
http://msydqstlz2kzerdg.onion/
https://ahmia.fi/i2p/

Onion Search

Need I say more?

https://onionsearchengine.com/

Not Evil

Not Evil is ‘clearnetly’ not a mainstream search engine. Read about biased, filtered boring stuff on the clear net. Search here to scan through over 30 million indexed pages on the deep web. One of the coolest and perhaps bizarre features is the ability to chat with other users without any type of signup or authentication whatsoever. Find it here: http://hss3uro2hsxfogfq.onion/

To ensure online privacy best practices, use any or all of the above. Happy searching.

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