Let’s find out what the privacy policies of some leading and privacy-focused search engines say they do with the information they have on you.
Wondering which search engine is least likely to spy on you or sell your data to advertisers? What do search engines really do with all the information they collect on you? You could go through their privacy policies one-by-one to find out. That’s what I did, but be warned! It’s slow-going, and you can feel yourself go a bit cross-eyed around page 42 of the fine print. Fortunately, I’ve resurfaced to bring you all the salient points so you don’t need to waste your time.
What’s a Search Engine?
Search engines are robot-like programs that search the web based on the keyword/s you enter. They search several databases indexing millions of internet sites to serve you the most relevant results on the search engine result page (SERP).
Ever had that nagging feeling you’re being watched while surfing the web? Especially with ads popping up everywhere based on your search queries, location, email conversations… even your thoughts?!
You’re not being paranoid. Most major search engines, like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, harvest your data from across their digital universe in an elaborate process called “tracking”. They use this data to build a detailed profile on you and target you with ads.
Search engines claim to collect your data to give you more personalized results and a better search experience. Unfortunately, they’re known to compromise your privacy by selling your data to advertisers for profit. That’s the biggest game in town, where third parties end up exploiting your data, and you become the product!
No one’s got time for that!
That’s why I’ve put together this handy guide. I’ve analyzed the privacy policies of 8 popular search engines to help you decide which search engine is best for you. I’ve looked at the type of data they collect about you, what they use it for, how long they keep it, who they share it with, and what measures they take to ensure your data stays out of the wrong hands.
Here they are, ranked from worst to best, in terms of the privacy they claim to afford you.
Over 90% of people still rely on the #1 search engine in the world to answer their questions, and Google works hard to keep them coming back. It’s constantly improving its search engine result pages (SERPs) to provide more helpful results.
Despite this, out of all the search engines on our list, Google fares the worst when it comes to privacy. It collects, stores, and shares the most personal information by far. That’s hardly surprising, as its business model relies on knowing as much data about you as possible.
It also collects the following on you:
It has your name, email address, credit card info, emails you write and receive, your stored videos, photos, documents, spreadsheets, and even your comments on YouTube.
Google also places cookies on your device and collects cookies from third-party sites that have Google Analytics in place. Cookies are little bits of code stored on your device by your browser. They track your internet activity and allow digital publishers to target you with personalized ads. After a slew of privacy breaches, including the $5 billion Incognito class-action lawsuit that claims Google tracks you even in Incognito mode, Google has been on a mission to improve its privacy posture.
The new FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) tracking system aims to replace cookies. It will allow advertisers to track you without knowing your identity. Data anonymization in machine learning will allow Google to process your data directly on your device, so it doesn’t need to collect or store it at all. Google also claims that it won’t sell your data to third-party ad sellers anymore.
We’ll have to wait and see how these changes affect the reality and perception of Google’s privacy levels. Until then, here’s a tip on how to protect your privacy while using Google.
Pro-Tip: To prevent Google from linking your searches to your identity, log out of your Gmail account while performing searches. Then go properly incognito with CyberGhost’s free Private Browser. This will hide every detail of your online activity, keep you safe from online surveillance, and allow you to enjoy an ad-free internet.
Yahoo! is the oldest search engine in this list and the fourth-largest search engine with 3.39 % of the global market. Yahoo!’s search is powered by Microsoft’s Bing, so the results are similar, though Bing may offer more privacy features.
- Collects IP address, cookies, device information, and search data
- Combines data from partners and third parties
- Sets cookies and allows other companies to place cookies on your browser
What’s concerning is that it analyzes and stores all communications content, including emails, to deliver personalized content and ads. That said, it does promise it won’t share or sell personal data with third parties, except with your permission and to deliver a service you’ve requested.
Yahoo!’s also had its share of privacy breaches. In September 2016, Yahoo revealed that cybercriminals stole the personal credentials of at least 500 million of its users. A further 1 billion users got hacked in December that same year.
Pro-Tip: Stay safe by clearing your browser cache regularly and deleting all cookies (try CyberGhost’s free one-click cookie cleaner). Then go invisible with CyberGhost Private Browser which has a user-friendly extension for Yahoo! This way, you remain 100% anonymous and protect your data from getting into the hands of third parties and cybercriminals.
3. Microsoft Bing
Microsoft Bing comes in second in global popularity with a market share of around 8%. While it limps far behind Google, Microsoft Bing trumps the big guy when it comes to security and privacy.
When you use Bing to search, Microsoft collects your search terms, IP address, unique identifiers, time and date, browser configuration, and approximate location. Still, Microsoft states that it has separate storage for search terms and account identifying info.
While it does place cookies on your machine, you can remove them in your browser settings.
Microsoft promised in a March 2021 privacy statement update that it won’t use your private files or communications to target ads at you:
Microsoft also doesn’t have as vast a universe of apps and services as Google to bring together and build a profile on you. It also doesn’t share enterprise data with Bing. Instead, it uses a single sign-on for secure access and HTTPS to securely handle search requests over Bing. That way, the connection between you and Bing is end-to-end encrypted.
Bing may not be the most private search engine, but it’s a reliable, full-featured alternative that does offer some privacy advantages over Google.
Pro-Tip: With Bing, you can completely disable interest-based advertising in your settings, which gives you more control over your privacy.
Russian-based search browser, Yandex, has a worldwide market share of 1.53%. That makes it the fifth-largest search engine in the world! Yandex is upfront about using your data to improve your experience and develop new products and services. Yandex claims the more data it has on you to use, the better the experience you’ll get.
Yandex automatically collects technical data like cookies, IP addresses, and geographic location to better understand your preferences. It doesn’t sell or share user data with third parties but does share data required to provide Yandex services, and when required to do so by Russian law.
Of all the privacy policies, Yandex’s was the most impenetrable. Also worrying is that Yandex has had several governmental breaches concerning their user data. The Russian connection makes me a little nervous of having the Kremlin look over my shoulder when searching.
Pro-Tip: As using Yandex may put some of your information at risk, we recommend running CyberGhost VPN to mask your device’s IP address and encrypt your data.
Ecosia is a green search engine that cares about two things: protecting your privacy and protecting the environment. Today, Ecosia has over 15 million users and has planted more than 131 million trees.
Microsoft Bing powers Ecosia’s search results and ads. These then get a facelift using Ecosia’s algorithms.
Ecosia has a Chrome extension and the latest version of Chrome even allows you to set Ecosia as your default search engine.
While ads appear next to search results, it says it doesn’t build a profile based on your search history or store or sell your data to third parties.
If you don’t mind ads at the top of your results, then Ecosia is a safe bet, plus you’ll be doing your bit for the environment.
Pro-Tip: Ecosia lets you choose whether you want personalized search results. Just head to your settings and turn tracking off.
Brave started as a free and open-source private web browser and today has over 25 million monthly active users. After it acquired open search engine Tailcat, Brave Search is on the road to becoming the first, all-in-one privacy-focused browser/ search engine combo out there.
Brave states that it doesn’t store your browsing history:
Brave promises zero personal information tracking. To generate revenue, Brave lets you choose which ads to see, and rewards you when you pay attention.
Pro-Tip: For even safer browsing on Brave, select New Private Window With Tor. Short for “The Onion Router,” Tor is an open-source privacy network that allows you to browse the web anonymously. Not only does it hide your browsing history, but it also masks your location by routing your traffic through several remote servers before it reaches your destination.
DuckDuckGo (DDG) has become the favorite search engine if you value your privacy, with a 0.39 % of the global market. Promising “privacy, simplified”, DuckDuckGo (DDG) is a powerful, privacy-friendly metasearch tool that gathers results from over 400 sources, including Yahoo!, Bing, and Wikipedia.
On its homepage, DDG promises it won’t collect any of your personal information.
With its !bang feature, DDG lets you search other websites like Yahoo!, Amazon, or Wikipedia, privately.
You can set DDG as your default search engine on desktop and mobile browsers.
I spotted two tiny concerns, though:
- DDG is based in the US, which isn’t ideal from a privacy perspective. DDG can be compelled to hand over data to law enforcement agencies.
- A close partnership with Yahoo!, Amazon, and eBay means you will still see their ads at the top of your searches, but these won’t be personalized.
Pro-Tip: Avoid searching for your name, address, credit card number, or any other personal information that could link the searches to you. These could expose you to identity theft and other privacy invasions.
StartPage was founded in 2006 as the first private search engine. It makes the strong claim that it has never saved or sold your data and never will.
StartPage gives you Google search results without logging any of your data. It also says it doesn’t share or sell information with third parties. It’s based in the EU, where they have strong laws that protect your right to privacy. That makes it a great alternative if you love Google’s results but want to search and browse anonymously.
Pro-Tip: Try the “Anonymous View” feature to continue to browse in full privacy even after you have left the SERP.
Still Unsure about Which Search Engine to Use?
Ask yourself what’s more important to you: relevance and speed of results, or your privacy? Remember that even if you use the most secure search engine in the world, you still could risk exposing your online activities the minute you leave the SERP and venture onto another site.
That’s because even privacy-focused search engines can only do so much to hide your details while you browse. They won’t protect you against IP and location tracking or encrypt your web traffic. That’s where you need CyberGhost VPN on top of a secure search engine.
What’s CyberGhost VPN?
CyberGhost VPN boosts your privacy by masking your IP address with one from our servers and creating an encrypted connection between your device and the public internet. This stops sites, advertisers, and your internet service provider from tracking your data or linking it back to you. Because you can change your IP location, CyberGhost VPN also allows you to access content that might be blocked in your region – like DuckDuckGo in China.
With CyberGhost VPN you can:
|Hide your online activity||We hide your location and internet activity by replacing your actual IP address with one from our secure servers. Military-grade 256-bit AES encryption scrambles your data so no one can trace who or where you really are.|
|Stop all types of online monitoring||Secure protocols like OpenVPN, IKEv2, and Wireguard stop anyone from intercepting your data. We operate under a strict No-Logs policy so we’ll never monitor, store, or share your information with anyone.|
|Enjoy an ad-free internet||Activate CyberGhost VPN’s ad-blocker in your settings to improve your internet experience by filtering out annoying ads.|
If you’re serious about protecting your privacy, use CyberGhost VPN along with one of the top private search engines. It’s the most effective way to keep all trackers at bay.
Does CyberGhost VPN affect my Google searches?
Using a VPN won’t stop Google from serving you personalized results and ads. When you connect to a VPN’s servers, it’ll change your location and allow you to hide your IP address so that Google, or anyone tracking your online activities, can’t identify you. Still, Google uses other means to track you. If you’re logged into your Google account, Google can still see your browsing history. To prevent Google from storing your search history, log out of your Google account and try CyberGhost’s free Private Browser.
Is incognito browsing really secure?
Not really. If the Google Incognito fiasco has taught me anything, it’s that search engines and browsers will follow you even in private browsing mode. It also won’t keep your internet service provider (ISP) from seeing where you’ve been online or sites from tracking your physical location using your IP address.
The only thing an Incognito browsing window does is not store your browsing history or any cookies. If you want to make it utterly impossible for anyone to track your online activities, CyberGhost Private Browser is the way to go.
Can I use a free VPN to search online?
Never. Many free VPN providers sell your data to third parties! That leaves you open to ad-targeting, cyberattacks, and identity theft. Aside from the security concerns, free VPNs often come with slow speeds, constant pop-ups, and bandwidth restrictions.
Do VPNs prevent websites from tracking me?
Yes, a VPN will encrypt your data to stop websites from collecting your personal details, financial information, and any other content that you don’t want to associate with your profile. Aside from offering unbreakable, military-grade encryption, check out why CyberGhost VPN should be your first choice.
Does CyberGhost Private Browser work with all major search engines?
Yes, while DuckDuckGo is the default search engine for CyberGhost Private Browser, other search engines are also available, such as Private.sh, Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex.
Can I install extensions on CyberGhost Private Browser?
Yes, as it’s a Chromium-based browser, CyberGhost Private Browser works nicely with most browser extensions. If you need help installing extensions on CyberGhost Private Browser, our support team is available 24/7.