Privacy focused search engines (still) on the rise - gHacks Tech News

Privacy focused search engines (still) on the rise

When Snowden revealed the massive spying program of the NSA back in 2013, Internet users started to turn to privacy focused search engines.

Search engines like DuckDuckGo or Startpage saw a jump in user traffic after the leaking of the data. While still just a tiny fraction of the traffic that the behemoth Google Search gets, or its main competitor Bing Search, it is clear that more and more users are using search engines that promise better privacy for some or even all of the searches they run.

The rise did not come out of nowhere though. Both DuckDuckGo and Startpage tap into the data of bigger search engines, Bing and Google, and while that is limiting somewhat as they have to deal with whatever data they get, search results are for the most part similar to what users get when they run searches on Google or Bing directly.

The core difference is however that users are not tracked when they run searches.

We looked at how well DuckDuckGo and Startpage are doing back in 2015 for the last time. Back then, both search engines did quite well and saw a noticeable increase in traffic year over year.

If you look at data provided by Alexa, a company that Amazon bought years ago that tracks website popularity among other things, you will notice that privacy focused search engines continue to do well.

DuckDuckGo broke into the top 400 sites this year globally for instance, while it sat in the top 800 sites a year ago. Startpage too went from a global rank around 3000 to 1249 in a year,  and newcomer Searx rose more than halved its rank to position 195,000 now.

duckduckgo traffic

Both DuckDuckGo and Startpage publish traffic information that are publicly available. DuckDuckGo's traffic continues to rise and sites at about 16,700,000 average direct requests per day. One year ago, the average number of direct requests was 11,100,000 which means that requests increased by about a third in a year's time.

startpage trafficStartpage sits at about 5,200,000 average direct requests per day right now. The search engine's traffic page does not reveal historic data however other than a graph, but growth seems to have slowed down.

Tips:

Closing Words

It is good to see that privacy focused search engines continue to do well. In fact, I'm a bit puzzled why they don't do a lot better considering that privacy is still one of the hot topics on the Internet and even in traditional media.

Is it because these search engines are known only to a small subset of people, because of convenience and the fact that most tracking happens without user knowledge in the background, or because of technical or functional reasons?

Now You: What's your take on this?

Summary
Privacy focused search engines (still) on the rise
Article Name
Privacy focused search engines (still) on the rise
Description
Internet search engines like DuckDuckGo or Startpage that focus heavily on privacy are still rising in popularity and doing well.
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Ghacks Technology News
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Comments

  1. Jiraya said on September 4, 2017 at 9:13 am
    Reply

    The best privacy policy ever, as far as I know, is Startpage’s.

    I’d like to add Qwant. Privacy is good there too. There’s a normal and a light version.

    https://www.qwant.com/
    https://lite.qwant.com/

    ” I’m a bit puzzled why they don’t do a lot better considering that privacy is still one of the hot topics on the Internet and even in traditional media. ”

    Not sure if you have a bias or not here, since you are exposed to a lot of English media, but Germans seem to be way more privacy-centred than most countries. Being German, I can see why worldwide figures would seem low to you.

    ” Is it because these search engines are known only to a small subset of people, because of convenience and the fact that most tracking happens without user knowledge in the background, or because of technical or functional reasons? ”

    Awareness maybe. Also Google Search seems to provide a more complete and overreaching service than DuckDuckGo or even Startpage. It’s possible that Qwant is a more interesting alternative to Google for that kind of users.

    But we’re just guessing, it would be interesting to have more factual insight, which would require…collecting more data. The fact that those websites are reaching the top spots is a pretty good sign though. I wonder where Qwant is, with something like 4-5 years of age it didn’t benefit from the post-Snowden’s surge.

    1. The Sitting Duck said on September 4, 2017 at 1:58 pm
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      https://www.findx.com/

      Is another good privacy conscious search engine

      1. Brian Schildt said on September 4, 2017 at 2:17 pm
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        Thanks for mentioning Findx! – I work here ;-)

      2. TelV said on September 4, 2017 at 2:49 pm
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        Transcript from the Terms of Use link bottom right on the Findx site:

        “You agree that Privacore may enable advertising on our services, and link to affiliate products. This is not connected with any information you provide us with.”

        That doesn’t sound very private to me.

      3. H0la said on September 5, 2017 at 4:14 pm
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        I’ve heard of them but never used them cause i thought they used Bing results (which I don’t like)
        Do they really only rely on their own index?

    2. BM said on September 7, 2017 at 4:34 am
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      “Also Google Search seems to provide a more complete and overreaching service than DuckDuckGo or even Startpage.”

      This.

      Haven’t found a perfect replacement for Google. Not even Bing.

      That said, DDG is my default search engine as it does work very well for somewhere between 85% and 95% of my searches.

      I’ve tried SP / ixquick, but, for some strange reason, their results, though sourced from google, just don’t seem to quite match up to google itself – especially when using more complicated search terms. And, perhaps related, the usability seems to lack a bit. Though I like the concept and will continue to check in on it (icon is on my browser menu-bar)

      Still, for the vast majority of searches, these alternatives are good, and I expect will get even better as more users climb aboard.

  2. Thorky said on September 4, 2017 at 9:25 am
    Reply

    Well, DuckDuckGo has its problems. I just searched for Steppenpieper (Anthus godlewskii / Blyth’s pipit in english) – and received matches for the name Stephen Pieper. Luckily there was an option to search for Steppenpieper only and this helped. But I dislike programs and sites, who think, they know better what I want.

    1. Heimen Stoffels said on September 4, 2017 at 10:26 am
      Reply

      For me, DuckDuckGo instantly displays information about the Blyth’s pipit when I search for “steppenpieper”.

    2. ShintoPlasm said on September 4, 2017 at 11:05 am
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      Oh my god, now Steppenpieper is my word for the day! :)

      1. Thorky said on September 4, 2017 at 1:55 pm
        Reply

        Well, I wanted to feed DuckDuckGo with a rarely used word. ;)

        @Heimen Stoffels
        Okay, I started the search from the searchbar of Firefox 55, not directly on DuckDuckGo.

      2. Gary D said on September 4, 2017 at 3:38 pm
        Reply

        My word for the day is Step’n’Fetchit :P

  3. www said on September 4, 2017 at 9:44 am
    Reply

    Interesting that DuckDuckGo keeps rising. But it is still a small player. For comparison Google has 3.5 billion searches per day , http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/

  4. Jiraya said on September 4, 2017 at 9:47 am
    Reply

    There has been a recent rise in secure email services too, recently, and that’s really good news. If someone ditches Google Search because of privacy, they’ll want to ditch Gmail too, at least for their primary mail service.

    ProtonMail: https://www.protonmail.com/
    Posteo: https://posteo.de/
    I think there’s another one but I can’t remember the name…

    ProtonMail also offers a VPN, which is nice because I know of no VPN that is both trustworthy and efficient. (And free. Although I haven’t evaluated how efficient ProtonVPN’s free version is.)

  5. T J said on September 4, 2017 at 9:53 am
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    Martin, I started to use Ixquick after you blogged about it in 2013. When Ixquick and Startpage merged. I carried on using Startpage.
    Because Startpage’s search algorithm uses the major search engines to scan the Net, I find that I get a comprehensive list of relevant links to the target subject. The proxy search is very good but sometimes I find that I am unable to access the target page. Possibly this is because the target page recognises the Startpage proxy and will not allow access.

    Startpage is compatible with Firefox, Cyberfox and Chrome. I don’t use Chrome but I did test Startpage with Chrome.

    I have seen little difference in the Startpage search results and a direct search using Firefox with Startpage disabled.
    I appreciate the benefits of privacy which Startpage offers.

    1. Pants said on September 4, 2017 at 11:12 am
      Reply

      courtesy of earthling – https://github.com/ghacksuserjs/ghacks-user.js/wiki/3.3-uBlock-Origin#small_orange_diamond-filters – uBo filter for blocking tracking images on startpage and ixquick

      1. T J said on September 4, 2017 at 1:34 pm
        Reply

        Thanks for the link, Pants

  6. Me said on September 4, 2017 at 11:15 am
    Reply

    I try to use Startpage when I can but the results simply aren’t as good as when using Google directly -_-

    1. Anonymous said on September 4, 2017 at 12:38 pm
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      Try falling back to DuckDuckGo or Qwant in those case, see if they allow you to ignore Google completely :)

      1. ams said on September 4, 2017 at 5:28 pm
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        The duckduckgo advanced search operators, ala ((something)or(somethingelse)) are a pain in the ass and often fail to successfully limit the search result.

        Qwant? It’s like: spin the wheel, get 20 results and, if more than 3 are actually relevant to what you were searching, congratulations — you win a kewpie doll.

      2. Anonymous said on September 5, 2017 at 10:52 am
        Reply

        Results are good here. Which language are you searching in ? Maybe some are weaker ?

      3. H0la said on September 5, 2017 at 4:19 pm
        Reply

        Duckduckgo = Bing = Microsoft
        Qwant = Bing = Microsoft

        So who do you want to boycott, Google or Microsoft? I wish there was more choice too…

      4. Jiraya said on September 5, 2017 at 6:41 pm
        Reply

        I don’t know how DuckDuckGo works, but Qwant has its own crawlers. The search engine is 4 years old and relies partly on Bing to improve its results where its crawlers are lacking.

        The % of Bing result backups varies. It is high for images because these take a lot of resources to crawl and reference. Early 2017, Qwant bought a supercalculator to do deep learning, which means their crawlers are probably going to reference a lot more images in-house and % of Bing results should decrease.

        Other than images, it depends on language. Some parts of the web in certain languages are harder to crawl. Since this is a French search engine with German inside, you can expect good in-house English, French, German and Spanish coverage at least.

        As time passes, Bing results are meant to decrease. That’s just how you start a search engine from scratch today: Properly crawling and referencing the entire web is hard, long and expensive.

      5. Jiraya said on September 5, 2017 at 7:05 pm
        Reply

        @ams

        ” Qwant? It’s like: spin the wheel, get 20 results and, if more than 3 are actually relevant to what you were searching, congratulations — you win a kewpie doll. ”

        I have been trying, for 6 hours over several days, to find something very important. It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever needed from a search engine and I expected it to be very hard to find, or simply unavailable. Still, spending hours and days was worth the effort even if unsuccessful.

        Well I just tried one of my searches on Qwant Lite, an hour or so ago. Just one search, made on every search engine I could think of with no relevant result. The second result on Qwant’s page solved my need.

        Until now I recommended Qwant in third place, for its privacy, because I read its policy and was able to weight it against Startpage’s or DuckDuckGo’s, but I barely ever used it because I was satisfied with my other engines.

        I don’t claim my experience is more representative than yours, it could be that you have a non-occidental language or who knows what, but clearly I’ll remember that, fuck, I’m so glad I found this shit. It could save me a year of my life.

  7. ShintoPlasm said on September 4, 2017 at 11:21 am
    Reply

    One major problem is that, with the exception of StartPage, the alternative privacy-focused search engines all seem to leverage Bing’s search results to complement their own. In my experience, Bing can be really hit-or-miss with anything that isn’t strictly in English or related the USA. StartPage’s reliance on Google makes it better and more precise finding what I need, but its slowness and intrusive ads are really annoying. I wish there was a way to combine DDG’s brilliant UI with StartPage’s search results!

    1. Valrobex said on September 5, 2017 at 3:37 am
      Reply

      @ShintoPlasm & Marcin

      Try using Epic Privacy Browser. It’s built on the Chromium platform, has a built in VPN, and most of all doesn’t allow ads or Google tracking. I’ve been using it for a couple of years now with no complaints. The only real drawback is the limited number of addons/extensions.

      I’ve set it up with Startpage as my primary search engine with DDG as my secondary search engine and have deleted all the other search engines from the browser using the set up. It’s so anti-Google that the Gmail sign-in page is non-responsive to Epic’s password manager. (I use Epic’s password manager for non-essential or throw away passwords. Needless to say, Gmail is non-essential for my purposes.)

      Epic has become my go to web browser with Pale Moon second and Firefox third. I’m currently playing around with Slimjet which seems to limit most of the adds but not entirely.

      1. ShintoPlasm said on September 5, 2017 at 7:42 am
        Reply

        How does this relate to my points about search results…?

      2. Rush said on September 6, 2017 at 1:42 am
        Reply

        IMO Epic privacy browser was great, a few years ago…now, it runs too many processes in the back-ground, currently, it’s built in ad-blocker / tracker has gone to crap. Epic does not allow you to load another ad-block app or a search engine app (they don’t make any $$ if you use another search engine. )

        When I use Epic..albeit rarely now…I saved duckduckgo as a bookmark and I search from there. Epic search is crap…mostly links collected by their search are in Russian. A lot of websites I visit, via Epic Browser are broken, if the sites are password accessed..forget it…again..the site is broken. especially if you opt for services under the umbrella ie: encryption, and you have to remember to enable plug-ins for certain sites which don’t don’t work have the time.

        In summary. Epic..decent three years ago
        * Built in Search engine..crap (Hello searches for links found, not in my specified language.)
        * Built in ad-blocker / tracker…crap ( Hello ad’s an pop-up’s)
        * Browse to favorite web-sites (Hello broken sites)

        Epic privacy browser now caters to micro$$$oft and is a shell of its former self.

        My recommendation for Epic privacy chromium browser…Don’t go there..it’s crap.

    2. Valrobex said on September 5, 2017 at 3:34 pm
      Reply

      @ ShintoPlasm

      When you use StartPage search engine on Epic you get StartPage’s search results without the intrusive ads.

      1. ShintoPlasm said on September 5, 2017 at 8:45 pm
        Reply

        @Valrobex: Agreed, though this can also be achieved using any other browser + uBO. However, no change of browser can solve StartPage’s irritating slowness…

  8. Marcin said on September 4, 2017 at 12:02 pm
    Reply

    I try to avoid as much as possible Google services, because I’m concerned about privacy.
    But the search service of Google is likely their only product which I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do without one day.

    From my experience, their results accuracy has no equivalent elsewhere.

  9. Brian Schildt said on September 4, 2017 at 2:44 pm
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    @Martin – It’s always great to read about private search engines! I can support your headline – Private search being on the rise, and more alternatives are surfacing, like https://www.findx.com, where I work. We opened our public beta back in May 2017, and had got a of attention and feedback on our reddit AMA.

    One og the thnigs we hear from people when they try Findx, is why is it different from Duckduckgo and Startpage. (taking Google out of the equation, that’s not really a comparison, yet ;-)

    I think there is one detail that’s hard to explain, and often blures the picture. The difference between a true search engine and a meta search engine.

    Meta search engines like Duckduckgo primarily gets results from Bing/Yandex and StartPage from Google, (Ixquick, Startpage owned, is also still alive,, but has no deal with Google, and uses yahoo/Bing and others).

    It is great people can use private services, but when Bing was down a couple of weeks DDG couldn’t provide search results and there was also reports about Qwant not showing results, indicating a relation to Bing.

    Findx is an independent Search engine and we have our own bot that crawls the internet, and creates our own index. Besides that Findx is open source, also the ranking algorithm, that’s a differentiator from the metasearch engines, since they get the feed from the big players and can’t control the results themselves.

    We have a long way to go, but opened our beta and invited people to try our service and give some feedback. We know it will take time to build an independent search engine based in Denmark/Europe, but we belive it’s worth being an independent open source alternative.

    In the end it boils down to people being in control of what data they share, if they can trust the search engine they use and find the information they need. And to confirm your headline, yes, it is more on the rise than ever before.

    PS: Not sure how we handle “Steppenpieper”, but feel free to try it out ;-)

    1. Arcionquad said on September 4, 2017 at 5:34 pm
      Reply

      Thank you, Brian Schildt.

    2. Anonymous said on September 4, 2017 at 6:28 pm
      Reply

      [PS: Not sure how we handle “Steppenpieper”, but feel free to try it out ;-)]
      Works pretty good! ;)

    3. Anonymous said on September 4, 2017 at 6:30 pm
      Reply

      > PS: Not sure how we handle “Steppenpieper”, but feel free to try it out ;-) <
      Works pretty well: shows instantly the correct matches, but asks above, if I probably have meant Stephen Pieper. :D

    4. Jiraya said on September 4, 2017 at 9:50 pm
      Reply

      ” Qwant not showing results, indicating a relation to Bing. ”

      In Qwant’s early days, it relied on Bing while its own crawler was getting up to speed. That was years ago though, pretty sure that’s not the case any more, or very marginally (like 2%).

      Good luck with Findx, I’ll make sure I’m giving it a try! Open sourcing search engine algorithms sounds very interesting.

      1. H0la said on September 5, 2017 at 4:36 pm
        Reply

        Qwant has been caught lying about this several times, I’m not able to ever trust them again.
        https://www.nextinpact.com/news/103652-les-liens-moteur-qwant-avec-microsoft-bing.htm

        (after translation:)
        ‘What about links with Microsoft? In his Frequently Asked Questions, Qwant testifies to his efforts to index the web, “however, it temporizes, it requires both resources and time”. Also, pending better indexing, this “partnership with Microsoft Bing allows us to complement our results with those of Microsoft Bing to deliver the best results from the entire web.’

        This is from march 2017, so not the ‘early days’.

      2. Jiraya said on September 5, 2017 at 6:43 pm
        Reply

        I read exactly that article and nowhere does it say Qwant is lying. The Bing reference is in their FAQ and has always been. I’ve read it a long while ago, that’s where the early day mention comes from.

        Qwant has its own crawlers. The search engine is 4 years old and relies partly on Bing to improve its results where its crawlers are lacking.

        The % of Bing result backups varies. It is high for images because these take a lot of resources to crawl and reference. Early 2017, Qwant bought a supercalculator to do deep learning, which means their crawlers are probably going to reference a lot more images in-house and % of Bing image results should decrease.

        Other than images, it depends on language. Since this is a French search engine with German inside, you can expect good in-house English, French, German and Spanish coverage at least.

        As time passes, Bing results are meant to decrease. That’s just how you start a search engine from scratch today: Properly crawling and referencing the entire web is hard, long and expensive. Bing themselves took results from Google in their own early days.

      3. H0la said on September 6, 2017 at 10:49 am
        Reply

        Jiraya, the fact that they’ve communicated that they use their own index and are a thread to Google seems nothing more than a joke after they were caught just being a meta search engine. If Bing cannot beat Google, how is Qwant ever going to be a thread? I cannot stand that kind of arrogance, but that’s just part of French culture.

  10. TelV said on September 4, 2017 at 3:06 pm
    Reply

    Even private search engines can’t do anything about caching which takes place when users click on a link: http://lucb1e.com/rp/cookielesscookies/

    Also most sites use Google Analytics these days which creates a unique user ID for each visitor which can be used to track users across sessions and even different browsers.

  11. Mike J. said on September 4, 2017 at 4:50 pm
    Reply

    Waterfox has StartPage & findx as installed search options.

  12. ams said on September 4, 2017 at 5:24 pm
    Reply

    topmost chart in this article: At a glance, the numeric values give the impression that duckduckgo receives 1.4MM queries per day. Closer inspection hints that values for the upper three items in the chart have been squeezed/truncated ~~ the rightmost zero of the value is nearly obscured.

  13. Klaas Vaak said on September 4, 2017 at 5:38 pm
    Reply

    Another issue about Google Search that has not been highlighted here is that it biases results by filtering them. This came to the fore during the last US presidential campaigns. So those who are using StartPage are accepting this bias.

    1. Jiraya said on September 4, 2017 at 9:57 pm
      Reply

      Google may adapt its search results based on user behavior, but there can be no such thing with Startpage.

      1. Klaas Vaak said on September 5, 2017 at 5:51 pm
        Reply

        It also adapts search results depending on what it deems on your behalf to be “sensitive” issues.Not acceptable for me.

    2. H0la said on September 5, 2017 at 3:58 pm
      Reply

      I’ve been using several search engines since the whole censorship discussion popped up and I can say that I don’t really see much difference between Google, Bing, Qwant, Startpage, Duckduckgo etc. Based on my own experiences I think it’s all just a bit hyped up. BUT the good news is that it makes people search for (privacy-friendly) alternatives to Google.

      When I really feel like something might be censored (especially on those political searches) I’ll check some smaller search engines that have their own index like Deep Search or Faroo. They aren’t any good for day to day search because their indexes are still too small, but they are perfect to check for potential biased results. I have to say that I haven’t found anything alarming yet.

      I’ve set Startpage.com to my default because they provide me the most privacy and the best results, I cannot see a reason yet why I should distrust them. Whatever search engine you’re using, just don’t rely on just one search engine! It’s the best advice I can give.

      1. Klaas Vaak said on September 5, 2017 at 5:50 pm
        Reply

        Being Dutch I was an enthusiastic StartPage user until the censor issue came up & I checked them against DDG. On several searches I found SP to not show politically “sensitive” results, which made me draw the conclusion that whether one does a search using SP or using Google directly it does not make any difference. The only advantage with SP is that it is anonymous so Google can’t track you.

        But hey, if it’s all the same to you use whichever suits you best :-)

      2. Jiraya said on September 5, 2017 at 6:54 pm
        Reply

        What are examples of such searches ?

        @H0la

        It’s not the same. Results may be similar from one engine to the other, privacy policy clearly aren’t. Startpage, DuckDuckGo and Qwant respect privacy, Google and Bing don’t.

  14. Yoav said on September 5, 2017 at 5:02 am
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    Google search still gives the best results, even in English. For Hebrew, Bing is nowhere near Google. Nonetheless, for more generic searches DDG is fine and I have begun using it lately, after understanding that Google has now become, for some reason, a political party. Hard to be more evil than that!
    The only problem is the inability to define the search with broader time limits. For instance, if I search “firefox addons”, then getting results from ten years ago is irrelevant. A limit of one year would be reasonable but DDG doesn’t have that option – only Google does.
    FindX – never heard of it but I’ll try it out.

    1. ShintoPlasm said on September 5, 2017 at 7:44 am
      Reply

      @Yoav: I often try searching in Hebrew in all the main search engines, and Bing is definitely the poorest of the bunch. Even DDG seems to have better results, which I find amazing considering Microsoft’s computing capabilities.

  15. Declan said on September 5, 2017 at 3:02 pm
    Reply

    In Houston the cable Internet service is Comcast XFinity. And in some parts of town it blocks DuckDuckGo. For instance, I live in west Houston where most of the flooding was last week (parts of my area is still under 5ft water, btw) and I use DuckDuckGo all the time. But two friends of mine in SE Houston where NASA is located tell me that DuckDuckGo is blocked by Comcast, so they use StartPage. Sometime the choice is made for us.

  16. jern said on September 5, 2017 at 5:04 pm
    Reply

    There is a war on the internet right now. It’s between people who believe privacy is important and people who think privacy should be abandoned so they can make more money and rule the world.

    Any new weapon in the arsenal of the privacy advocates is welcome. I use DuckDuckGo all the time and have Google/Bing (and their subdivisions) blocked in as many ways as I can find.

  17. Patrick said on September 5, 2017 at 10:41 pm
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    I live in the Republic of Panama and I recently switched from Duck-Duck-Go to StartPage as I wasn’t getting good results in English from Duck-Duck-Go. StartPage was giving me much less Ad and less revenue generating (free) sites. I use Google (Panama) when searching for things local to Panama or Latin America.

  18. Tom said on September 7, 2017 at 6:18 pm
    Reply

    I like DuckDuckGo, but all I’m hearing about it is “It’s a US based company” and that it runs it’s service on “Amazon’s servers” and on both counts the “US Goverment and security agencies” could have a gag order on it that we the user don’t know about and could be monitoring all of our searches, or that “Amazon could hand over all details to Government / Security agencies if needed.”

    Even privacytools.io has downgraded it.

    That’s why I use startpage.com to be honest, even though whenever you contact their Customer Service team all you get is “We’ll pass that on to our technical team”. DuckDuckGo’s Customer Service is much friendlier.

    I would like to use DuckDuckGo more, but the privacy issue going around the Internet at the minute regarding it’s US connections is crazy and off putting.

  19. XenoSilvano said on September 12, 2017 at 10:13 pm
    Reply

    knowing that there are a growing number of people out there willing to give governments an their spy agencies the middle finger by standing up for their right to privacy emboldens my confidence and faith in our solidarity

  20. Quixote said on September 22, 2017 at 1:54 am
    Reply

    Many users have not heard of ixquick.eu which does not not use Google and Yahoo results.

    “What is the difference between StartPage, Ixquick, and related search engines?”
    https://support.ixquick.com/index.php?/Knowledgebase/Article/View/103/4/what-is-the-difference-between-startpage-ixquick-and-related-search-engines

    Also, your results in all startpage products may be influenced by how your settings have been configured.

    https://www.ixquick.com/do/preferences?language=english&language_ui=english&nj=0

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