Monday, 30 October 2017

In Search of Lost Privacy: 6 Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy

Consumers are worried about the uncertain future of internet privacy. Future changes in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules can weaken the current online protections. So internet users are taking matters into their own hands. They are using VPN services and privacy search engines to protect their own data. The trend is giving rise to alternative search engines that are more proactive in protecting customer information.

Why Privacy Search Engines?

Business models of traditional search engines are built on monetization of customer data. Google, Yahoo, and Bing collect customer IP addresses, query data and query times. They use web browser cookies to identify and track consumer behavior.

The collected data has implications on multiple levels. Search engines have information about every aspect of a customer’s life. The data reveals the demographics, tastes, and proclivities of the customers. The information is powerful enough that companies can use it to manipulate the buying habits of tracked individuals. So the search engine companies make money through predicting behavioral patterns of the consumers.

It’s not all dreary for consumers. They benefit from getting better deals, customized offers and less time searching for things they want. However, the problem lies in the fact that consumers don’t have control over the process. Privacy search engines are providing consumers with a choice to gain control. It’s giving them more power.

The following search engines are using innovative technologies and methodologies to serve the needs of today’s concerned internet citizens:

1. BitClave

BitClave is a decentralized search engine and one of the most exciting search technologies to come along in recent years. It’s using blockchain technology to allow customers to search products. Blockchain is a revolutionary technology that gained prominence due to its use in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin, and Zcash. Bitclave’s blockchain-based search engine gives consumers the power to share their own data at their own discretion.

Privacy Features: Bitclave’s Active Search Ecosystem (BASE) allows users to create profiles with their preferences. Ethereum blockchain technology keeps the information private. When consumers want to purchase a product, they can publicly display their preferences without revealing their identity. Businesses can offer their services directly to the customers. The platform also allows businesses to pay Consumer Activity Tokens (CAT) to incentivize the customers. In this ecosystem, consumers can protect their private information while deriving the benefits of their own behavioral data.

2. DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a search engine that avoids tracking its users. It uses Yahoo on its backend to search. Like Google, it maintains a clean interface without any clutter. DuckDuckGo doesn’t even use anonymized identifiers to group search results together. Results are purely based on the search term without any user bias.

Privacy Features: DuckDuckGo adds affiliated codes to selected eCommerce sites like Amazon and eBay. It receives commissions from its eCommerce partners. But these codes are not linked to any identifiable personal information. So consumers can search without worrying about biased or manipulative results. All advertisements on the site are untargeted. It also has an ad-free search option.

3. SearX

SearX is an open source search engine that allows anyone to run an instance of it. It is a privacy-respecting metasearch engine that aggregates information from other search engines.

Privacy Features: Users can use public instances of SearX or they can host their own instances. It ensures that user information is not tracked or profiled. It has support for about 70 search engine and runs over encrypted connections. SearX also runs over Tor for providing true anonymous searching. Because it is open source, developers can customize it to meet personal needs.

4. Startpage

Startpage, along with its sister search engine lxquick, has gained the trust of privacy enthusiasts through gaining the European Privacy Seal in 2008. The company behind the search engine is based in Netherlands, a country known for its strong privacy laws. It uses Google search in the backend.

Privacy Features: Besides the European Privacy Seal, Startpage has one of the highest SSL encryptions scores from Qualys SSL Labs. It has not recorded user IP address since 2009. It was well ahead of all the other privacy search engines. It also offers proxy links for every search result. Users visiting a website using the proxy link will still be protected by the Startpage privacy policy.

5. Disconnect Search

Disconnect Search aggregates information from Google, Bing, and Yahoo. It has a product line with various price points to serve different types of customers. The Firebox and Chrome extension is open source and free. It also has commercial products for mobile devices as well as VPN services.

Privacy Features: The Disconnect Search browser add-on provides private searches using traditional search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo. Users also have the option to use DuckDuckGo as the default engine. Disconnect Search doesn’t collect the keywords or personal information. Additionally, the elimination of tracking information improves the performance of the browser it runs on.

6. Qwant

Qwant is a French company that was founded on the principles of respect for privacy. However, its privacy-first approach doesn’t compromise on relevant results. The user interface is nice and efficient. It has the look and feel of a full-fledged application than a search engine. On the left side of the screen, it displays categories like web, news, social, images, videos, shopping and music. The default language is French.

Privacy Features: For general searches, Qwant doesn’t collect any data. When users log in with an ID, relevant information is collected but it is never associated with search queries or cookies. Qwant guarantees that any data collected will not be sold to third-parties. The data is removed 7 days after an account deletion request. Also, this search engine doesn’t permit behavioral targeting for advertisements.

Final Thoughts

Recent privacy concerns are going to inspire more innovative entrepreneurs to start moving into the search engine space. Bitclave’s innovative blockchain approach or DuckDuckGo’s creative use of traditional searches are examples of new ideas meeting the demand. Hopefully, it will also inspire traditional search engine companies to change their perspective on data aggregation. Consumers are looking for a solution to their privacy problems and the above companies are stepping up to provide the answers.

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