6 Search Engines That Abuse Your Privacy (and 3 That Actually Preserve It)

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search engines invading your privacy

To make things easier for everyone, ExpressVPN has evaluated nine major search engines based on how invasive they are to your privacy. Six stood out as privacy menaces, while three proved to be safer bets. The evaluation is based on each search engine’s privacy policy, the presence of ads, and additional privacy-focused services.

With the rise of modern browsers, search engines have become seamlessly integrated into our internet experience. Gone are the days of typing out “www.google.com”—now one only needs to type a query into the search bar (or address bar, in many cases), and in come the results.

Because of this streamlined experience, we’re less likely to think critically about what search engines we use. On Chrome? Sure, Google will do. Internet Explorer? Take me away, Bing!

The problem with this laissez-faire attitude is that it has a sizeable effect on how we experience the internet. Not only do search engines vary in their algorithms, thus impacting search results, but they also have radically different privacy policies. Depending on who you’re doing your searching with, you could be putting random facts about yourself up for sale.

The Naughty List

Google

Scope of data collection: Enormous (don’t forget, Google follows you on YouTube)
Ads: Yes
Noteworthy characteristics: It probably knows everything about you *sinister laugh*

Google may be the most popular search engine around—in 2014 it hosted 67.5% of all searches in the U.S.—but it’s a terrible choice when it comes to privacy.

As the search engine’s privacy policy informs visitors, Google tracks just about everything, including your search queries, your IP address, your phone number, your hardware settings—and more!

According to Google, all of this data collection is done for the benefit of users:

“We collect information to provide better services to all of our users – from figuring out basic stuff like which language you speak, to more complex things like which ads you’ll find most useful, the people who matter most to you online, or which YouTube videos you might like.”

If that degree of intrusiveness makes you queasy, though, fear not: You can always make Google forget about you. Once you clear your slate, you might also want to check out one of the search engine options on the Nice List.

Yahoo

Scope of data collection: Large
Ads: Yes
Noteworthy characteristics: Its affiliated email system was recently hacked

Things have not been good for Yahoo lately, what with the disclosure that some 500 million Yahoo Mail accounts were hacked. That event alone turned many privacy-minded individuals away from the company.

Yahoo’s search engine isn’t anything to write home about (it’s “powered by Bing”), but it does have an ad interest manager that lets you stop Yahoo from tailoring the ads you see. It doesn’t stop ads from appearing altogether, but it at least makes the browsing experience slightly less stalkerish.

Bing

Scope of data collection: Large
Ads: Yes
Noteworthy characteristics: It knows almost as much about you as Google does

The second most popular search engine in the U.S. (partially because it “powers” other search engines), Bing also records your search queries and other relevant information. However, because it is not integrated with as many popular platforms as Google (like YouTube), it could be seen as slightly less intrusive.

That still isn’t saying much. A visit to Bing’s privacy page paints a detailed picture of all the lovely things you share when you do a search:

“When you conduct a search, or use a feature of a Bing-powered experience that involves conducting a search or entering a command on your behalf, Microsoft will collect the search or command terms you provide, along with your IP address, location, the unique identifiers contained in our cookies, the time and date of your search, and your browser configuration.“

All in all, that’s some fairly identifiable non-identifiable information.

AOL

Scope of data collection: Large
Ads: Yes
Noteworthy characteristics: Filled with nostalgia for anyone online in the 90s

AOL (sometimes written as Aol.) is similar to Yahoo in that it is “powered by Bing.” It’s also similar to its purple competitor in that it faced a privacy scandal of its own: In 2006, the company published the search histories of 650,000 users.

Frustratingly, AOL’s privacy page is far less detailed than those of other search engines. Rather than giving you a list of exactly what data it collects, the page remarks, “We collect and receive information about you and your device when you give it to us directly, when you use our Services, and from certain third-party sources.” There are no hyperlinks for further explanation, no pleasant footnotes.

Basically, use AOL at your privacy’s risk.

Ask

Scope of data collection: Large
Ads: Yes
Noteworthy characteristics: Its search toolbar is often bundled with other software, and it’s hard to get rid of

Ask (known as Ask Jeeves in another life) has grappled with its identity during its 20-year existence. Sometimes a question and answer site, sometimes pure search, it has lately slunk to the back of the pack in terms of volume.

Thankfully, it’s much more straightforward than AOL when it comes to letting you know what information it collects, including, “your mobile device’s geographic location (specific geographic location if you’ve enabled collection of that information, or general geographic location automatically).” Reassuring stuff.

What makes Ask a bit more aggravating, however, is its occasional role as a “browser hijacker.” Sometimes when you download an application from the internet, it will bundle in a “helpful” Ask search toolbar which you’ll install because you didn’t read the conditions when you were blindly clicking “Accept, Accept, Accept…” The result: Ask becomes your automatic search engine on all your browsers.

Even if such practices aren’t malware per se, they can still be pretty annoying, especially given all the data Ask can suddenly get its hands on.

Lycos

Scope of data collection: Large
Ads: Yes
Noteworthy characteristics: It’s still around

Lycos has gone through many iterations since the Dotcom Bubble and has even been sighted trying to spin off a brand of wearables. Will this new incarnation work? You be the judge.

Like other search engines on the naughty list, Lycos harvests a lot of data, including your IP, browser, and platform. It makes a point of saying that it collects “aggregate search terms,” which at least suggests that individual searches are not tied to your IP (hopefully).

The Nice List

Ixquick

Scope of data collection: Non-existent
Ads: No
Noteworthy characteristics: Open search results with proxy service

ExpressVPN is no stranger to Ixquick. The search engine has been wowing the privacy-minded since 1998, and despite having slower loading speeds than other services, it offers relatively strong results.

One feature that sets Ixquick apart is that it gives users the option to open search results in a proxy window, thus allowing them to view pages anonymously. The load times can be fairly slow, however, so it might not be practical for those on a deadline.

Ixquick takes a reassuring approach to privacy. The site proclaims, “You have a right to privacy,” and, “The only real solution is quickly deleting your data or not storing them to begin with.”

ExpressVPN wholeheartedly agrees.

StartPage

Scope of data collection: Non-existent
Ads: Yes
Noteworthy characteristics: The performance of Google without the privacy infringement

StartPage is an offshoot of Ixquick that queries Google, basically acting as a go-between. That means you get all the power of a Google search minus the disclosure of your personal information. The only downside is that you still get ads, but at least they aren’t aimed at you.

StartPage, like Ixquick, offers a proxy option for exploring search results. However, it is still somewhat slow and sometimes results in page rendering errors.

Another great thing about StartPage? It stopped recording users’ IP addresses in 2009.

DuckDuckGo

Scope of data collection: Non-existent
Ads: No
Noteworthy characteristics: It offers a Tor service (3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion)

ExpressVPN previously reviewed DuckDuckGo and loved it. It doesn’t collect your IP address or other information, but it does record searches—it just aggregates them without affiliating them with other data.

DuckDuckGo is also unique in that it offers an onion service. This characteristic, along with its speed, makes it a top pick.

Of course, DuckDuckGo’s algorithm opts for the crowd-sourced over the corporate. A search on the current U.S. presidential election in the “News” category brought up Wikipedia articles as the top two hits, so be sure to look further down the list if you want more variety.

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Do you use any of the search engines listed above? Let us know in the comments below. Remember, you can always use a VPN to hide your IP address, but that won’t stop search engines from recording other data about your searches or your machine!

 

Featured Image: Pixabay

7 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the great article! I’m a loyal ExpressVPN user. Question: Is it safe if I let my iPhone location active while at the same time using ExpressVPN?

    • Hi Ron, glad you liked the article!

      As for your question, when having location services turned on, you are sharing your location with services you can specify. This includes apps such as your browser, your maps service, facebook or messaging apps. ExpressVPN does not block this data from being shared with the apps’ servers. Be careful to only share your location with apps that you trust, and only when necessary for them to function. In your iPhone, go to Settings -> Privacy -> Location Services and review the permissions you gave to applications as well as system services.

  2. I’ve been using the Duck* for years now and love it. Only down side is at times my search query’s it shows at the top are not the most relevant but as the article said a little scrolling down and i usually find what i need. Good article THX =)

  3. First off, thanks Express VPN for being there in the first place and doing such a great job in protecting our privacy; I’ve never failed to get a good fast connection. In search engines I use Duck as my go to search engine and as you and others have said it is fast (certainly fast enough for me) and reliable. Thanks for a good article and (to be blunt) guggle & co. go swallow and someday hopefully choke on its own pro-corporate anti-public-privacy values – spelling intentional.

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