Privacy Switch, Part 1: Search Engine

This is the first real post in my series about switching to services and software that don’t track you. As the title says, I’ll be talking about how I changed my search engine, which isn’t remotely as dreadful as it sounds. Really, it’s a no-brainer.

Just like everyone else, I’ve been using Google ever since I started using the Internet. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with Google – they’re one of the best companies this planet has ever had. But the problem lies on the way between you and Google. The NSA have been intercepting the communications to Google (and Yahoo!) data centers, over and above what they do legally. It’s may not exactly be Google’s fault, but there’s the naked, ugly truth.

Bing is out of question, since Microsoft has been rather cooperative with the NSA surveillance activities.

Reading between the lines, you should have noticed that the NSA only targets those companies which do collect their users’ data, no matter how good their intentions are. The best solution is, simply not using those services, or using them in such a way that they can’t track you.

The two spy-proof search engines I use these days, are DuckDuckGo and StartPage. DDG is the coolest one I’ve seen, and StartPage is just Google, with extra privacy.

DuckDuckGo

DDG gets its search database from 100+ sources, including Bing and Yandex, but not Google. Note that it only borrows the database, and not the search algorithms; this way, it’s free from the biased nature of Bing.

Besides respecting your privacy by not asking (or stealing) any data about you, DDG also has a lot of fun features which make web search easier than ever, many of which are unique to it. To name a few…

The 0-click box

Besides the regular search results, you will often see a small box that directly gives you the summarized information about what you searched for. Try searching for your favourite band or your city.

Google too has this feature, but DDG gets its data from more sources than Google. Now, try searching for a Java library method or a Pokémon! 😉

Goodies

Using well-structured search terms, DDG can do many cool things for you: from the usual ones (like converting currency or showing weather info) to the handy ones (like generating QR codes and expanding short URL’s) to the more obscure ones (like finding resistor colour bands). Check them out →

!Bangs

Using !bangs, you can search other sites directly from DDG – it can do everything from shopping sites to reference docs, and even competing search engines! For instance, !flipkart shoes will take you (obviously) to Flipkart search results for shoes. The best part? There are hundreds of these !bangs. Check them out →

What makes DDG so versatile is that it receives a lot of community contributions, besides their own work. Anyone can add goodies or !bangs, and unless it is something nauseatingly awful, they’ll accept it. Due to its community-friendly operation, DDG now comes as the default search engine in many GNU/Linux distros.

StartPage

StartPage uses Google as a base, but adds solid privacy on top of it. All your searches are completely anonymous and encrypted. Learn more →

But apart from that, there’s nothing really cool about StartPage, except what it inherits from Google.

How’s it different from Google without signing in?

  • They don’t even log an anonymous search query. (In addition to not knowing who you are, it doesn’t even remember what you searched for.)
  • All queries are redirected through a proxy, which means nobody knows where the query came from.

I think the advantages of DDG and StartPage are enough to cover the fact that they are not quite popular yet. Plus, you don’t have to compromise on quality just to earn your well-deserved privacy. So my preferred search engine is now DDG, and I turn to StartPage in the rare case that DDG can’t find what I’m looking for. And guess what, you can even search StartPage from DDG using !startpage – nifty, eh?

Talking about nifty, Y U NO ADD DDG 2 UR BROWSER?


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