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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 16 Issue 1
January 2022
Protect Your Privacy When Searching: Use Startpage or DuckDuckGo instead of Google or Bing or Yahoo

The problem
When you use a major search engine like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc., they track your searches and associate them with your IP address. Over time they can collect a lot of information about what you're interested in, along with anyone else in your household or office, since every computer and mobile device connected to the same router shares the same IP address.
A partial solution: Use a private search engine instead
Private search engines are independent websites that give you the ability to search online anonymously. The two that I have the most experience with are:
This is how these two work:
  • You simply submit your searches through either of these websites, using exactly the same search keywords that you normally use.
  • They in turn submit your search to the search engine, and then give you the results without revealing your IP address to the actual search engine.
  • You then click in the search results to explore the links, just as you would if you used a search engine directly.
All the search engine sees is that Startpage or DuckDuckGo performed a search using their IP addresses, not yours.
Since your searches go through an intermediate service, they make take slightly more time, but in my experience it's hardly noticeable, whether you're searching with a Macintosh, Windows computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android.
Why would you do this?
There are a wide variety of private search engines to choose from. Some of them, like Startpage and DuckDuckGo, serve as "front ends" to regular search engines. All of them prevent the topics you're searching for from being tracked and associated with your IP address, which reduces the amount of information the major search engines can collect about your interests.
Private search engines keep your search keywords and results private, but they can't do anything about what happens next, when you click the links in those results.
As with any web browsing that you do, your IP address as well as information about your web browser, where you go online, and what you're interested in can still be collected by:
  • Your ISP,
  • The websites you visit,
  • As well as any underlying tracking and data collection technology already built into your web browser. For example, Google tracks information about your web browsing if you use Google Chrome.
So while the privacy protection that private search engines provide is valuable, it's also limited.
Searches you perform without specifically visiting a search engine
You may be in the habit of simply typing your search terms into the "Search" or "Search or enter address" field at the top of your web browser window. If so, you are simply using the default search engine specified in your web browser's settings, which is most likely Bing (for a Microsoft browser like Internet Explorer or Edge) or Google (for many other browsers).
If you want to switch to a private search engine, you can:
  • Either go to the specific web page for the private search engine of your choice (e.g., startpage.com) first, and then enter your search keywords,
  • Or you can probably change your web browser's default to use your preferred private search engine.
Adjusting the settings
Startpage and DuckDuckGo have a variety of settings that you can adjust which affect your searches, including:
  • Number of results per page
  • Geographic region
  • Language
  • Family filter or Safe Search: Whether to omit adult material
and many more.
Advertisements in your search results
By default, both Startpage and DuckDuckGo display 2-3 clearly-labeled ads at the top of their search results, followed by your search results. Like many online services, they may be free for you to use, but they cannot survive without some way to earn revenue.
DuckDuckGo has an option to turn off ads in its Settings, but Startpage doesn't.
Beware fake search engines
As with any category of websites, there are plenty of fake or malicious search engines on the internet. Before using any search engine, private or otherwise, do your own research first. See below for one technique that I've found helpful.
Where to go from here
  • To find reviews, google: private search engine review OR compare
  • To find out more about a given private search engine named "sss" (and research its authenticity), google: sss review OR compare OR legitimate OR fake
  • To learn how to make search engine "sss" become the default in your web browser "bbb," google: bbb default search sss
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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