With concerns rising about what data is collected when using the internet, many popular browsers now offer a private browser option in addition to a non-private one. The most well-known being InPrivate on Internet Explorer and Incognito mode on Google Chrome.
While these private browsers can enhance your privacy on the internet there are a range of other browsers available that enable you to conduct even more private searches by hiding more of your data that can be collected when using search engines.
Firstly, it is important to understand that when you are scouring the web without a private browser, your search engine keeps a record of what you are looking at (your history), saves cookies from the websites you visit, and stores form data it can autocomplete later, such as your billing address. It also saves other information, such as a history of files you’ve downloaded, passwords you’ve chosen to save, and bits of web pages to speed page load times in the future (also known as the cache).
This can be problematic if more than one person uses the computer. For example, if someone else comes across a webpage with a password automatically stored, they could access sensitive personal data, or private browsing history.
When using a private browser, the search engine doesn’t store any browsing history, cookies that remember information about you – plus form data and websites are prevented from tracking your visits. This is beneficial in situations such as booking airline flights, as if you repeatedly view the same flight without a private browser, cookies have been known to elevate the price. It also prevents personalized adverts being targeted at you as a company’s algorithm is prevented from collecting data about what products you are most interested in.
However, it is important to understand that using a private browser does not always guarantee total privacy. Your activity may still be visible to the Internet Service Provider (ISP), – the organization that provides the Internet connection. This is the case with Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari Private Browsing and Mozilla Firefox Private Browsing. The website you want to go on may not know you were there, but your search engine will. Additionally, these browsers also retain any files you download even after you close the window, as well as anything you bookmark.
If you would like to use a browser that has an even higher level of privacy, there are some less well-known search engines that provide additional layers of privacy. We have taken a closer look at four options:
Swisscows is a Switzerland based private search engine that launched in 2014 and sources its results from Bing. The website has its own servers and when using Swisscows neither your IP address is recorded nor is the browser you are using (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Chrome, etc.). Additionally, no search history is saved, the search engine does not record any statistics on its visitors and does not use geo-targeting, as the browser does not know your location. Swisscows positions itself as a family friendly search engine and filters all pornographic and violent results from searches.
MetaGer is a search engine based in Germany, which started in 1996 and gets its results from Bing and Yahoo. The browser is run by a non-profit foundation called SUMA-EV (Association for Free Access to Knowledge). When searching using MetaGer, search requests become anonymous using a proxy server (a gateway between you and the internet) and your IP address is shortened so as not to reveal your full digital fingerprint. Every search result shows the source it came from and gives you the option to open a tab privately using the ‘open anonymously’ link. MetaGer does keep some logs on their own servers but this data is kept no longer than 96 hours and is automatically erased after this time. The search engine does not use any cookies or tracking methods; however, user agent info is passed along to their search partners, which reveals what system you are using e.g. Safari on an iPhone.
Startpage is a private search engine based in the Netherlands and collects its results from Google. Although Google is a non-private browser, Startpage pays Google to use its results but then remove all trackers and logs to give users anonymity. Startpage don’t collect or share your personal information because there is none on their servers, meaning you can’t be profiled, and your information can’t be shared with any third parties. Using its proxy “Anonymous View” feature on each result means that your IP address will be hidden, and the website will have no trace you visited the page. Additionally, you can also select the server region you want to use, for example US servers or EU servers, due to GDPR servers in the EU tend to have more stringent rules on privacy.
Qwant is a French based search engine, which launched in July 2013 and gathers its results from Bing. Qwant has its own servers, does not put any cookies on your browser, does not store your history and does not do any data profiling. This is because Qwant completely anonymizes your IP address from your search query meaning, two people searching for “trip to Mexico” in Paris and in California will get the exact same result. However, it does keep local storage data, which saves your language preferences. The browser is now one of the most popular in France with over 10 million searches a day.
We hope this helps you when making decisions about which search engine is right for you or inspires you to try a new one. If you would like more information on similar topics you can read these previous posts:
- How to turn on private browsing in Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox
- How do I choose the best browser for me?
- Am I able to monitor the websites that my child goes to?