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Seeking Surveillance Safe Search Engines

While helping our colleague Dave Bean as he worked to get his essay on Google and the NSA ready for publication, I found myself wondering if any of this latest news on the government’s forcing their nose into everybody-in-the-world’s business would have any lasting effect. Sadly, I figured not–if there was any change, it’d only be temporary. I’ve spent too many years on this planet to expect too much in the way of permanent change for the better.

Safe Search Engine

DuckDuckGo’s main page. Click to enlarge.

Sadly, I’m of the generation that learned of the advent of global warming way back in the early 1970s (we called it “the greenhouse effect” back then). Child that I was in those days, I was certain we’d work to solve that problem long before it got out of hand. Obviously we didn’t. Government corruption? I wrote of it in the underground press about the time Nixon was being taken down for Watergate. The government got a little less corrupt, briefly, and a little more transparent, just as briefly, before Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra came to rule our lives and consciousness.

A little hope came to shine on me, however.

The other night, just as Dave and I were engaged in a back-and-forth exchange of emails about his essay, I received an email, sent from my little sister’s Yahoo account. She wanted to know if I knew a better way for her to search than Google?

“One that doesn’t track you,” she wrote. “I know it’s silly and I don’t really care what they find about me, but I just don’t think they have the right to do that.”

I knew exactly what she meant. In the old days we would’ve said, “It’s the principle of the thing.”

Truth be told, the question was embarrassing for a supposed free tech expert like me. I didn’t. I knew search existed that didn’t track, but I’m as lazy as the next gal and Google’s too easy. I shot her an email back. “No,” I wrote, “but that’s a great idea for an article for FOSS Force. I’ll get right on it and get right back atcha.”

She’d prefer something with an Android app. My sister lives in the mountains, off the grid, out on the west coast. They have some electricity they generate from a stream on their property, but for Internet access they’re stuck with the snail paced service they can get from the one cell tower that sends a signal where they can reach it, so she pretty much depends on her Android phone and the Google Nexus tablet she’s come to adore.

I did a cursory search and was amazed at how easy it was to come up with search engines that don’t keep records or track their users. One of them, DuckDuckGo, I’d forgotten but had played around with it some time back and knew it had a good reputation among people I know in the San Francisco bay area.

ixquick Safe Search Engine

Search results displayed on ixquick search engine. Click to enlarge.


All of these search engines are proud of the fact that they search without tracking–their reason for being. Also, they’re all very aware that the NSA and Google have given them an opportunity to cash-in. Hopefully, they’ll be able to retain some of their new users even after this current scare wears off.

Just today Business Insider ran an article on all the extra traffic going to DuckDuckGo since the news of PRISM came out. They’re setting records.

Search results seem to be at least as good as on Google, since all of these alternative search engines take results from the major search engines, including Google and Bing. They’re free services. Like Google, they include ads in their search results. But these ads are based only on your search terms, not on your surfing history.

Later that same night, I fired-off another email to little sis. “Try DuckDuckGo or Ixquick,” I told her. “Neither one tracks you. Both have Android apps.”

A little while later, sister sends an email back. “Thanks,” she wrote. “BTW, I have a new email addy.”

She dropped Yahoo. The new TOS gives them the right to scan through your mail looking for keywords and keyword phrases. Now she’s with Hushmail, an online email service that doesn’t read your mail.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

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9 comments to Seeking Surveillance Safe Search Engines

  • Peter Smout

    Also try https://startpage.com doesnt record your IP address! Been using it for a while, and although ‘instant’ doesnt work still a good search engine IMHO

  • Indeed it is Peter! It’s actually owned by the same people who do Ixquick. It’s nice to hear from someone who actually has some experience using it.

  • Hushmail costs too much … but if you use OpenPGP you can make it more difficult for gmail etc. to search your emails. Not impossible, but make the f*ckers work for their inflated salaries, ne?

  • I believe Hushmail is free if you don’t need any bells and whistles.

  • Anonymous Cowherd

    Hushmail has untrustworthy for quite a while, even before the Wired report: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2007/11/hushmail-to-war/

  • I’m sure it’s a rabbit-hole but the question comes immediately to mind: how do we know DDG and others don’t track? Sure they say they don’t but, believe it or not, companies lie (they call it “marketing”).

    The safe way to search is either to not search or use a distributed peer-to-peer search engine like yacy.net

    And as for email? either GPG or hosting it yourself.

  • Eddie G.

    Well I for one don’t care that the gov’t reads my emails, if anything I feel sorry for the poor bloke that has to pore through emails from mt to my two younger brothes, and my two older sisters who BOTH have four kids apiece, and my youngest brother has a little girl…so you can understand why I have over 1,700 emails from my family!…..from pictures of some of my nieces graduation ceremonies…to emails discussing plans for taking my Mom out for Mother’s Day dinner. Since I don’t have anything to worry about…what do i care if someone in Washington D.C…or in North Dakota…or wherever they have their giant database has to read all my emails…including the ones I get from responses to my comments on this site. If anything I wish them luck…I happen to LIKE writing, I feel its a lost art form, (I’ve been trying to write a book since HIGH SCHOOL!…I started it using Office ’95!…) and have since “converted” just about all of it to LibreOffice!) But while I’m one of the few people who don’t mind about this particular thing i can still sympathize with those people who’re uptight about it. I guess to each their own…I realize it’s a right that’s being violated, and that if we don’t put a stop to it..it’ll only get worse….but then again..like I said before…why should I worry if I have nothing to hide?…..(I can imagine the hailstorm of fiery comments I’ll receive over my statements!…let the slaughter begin!)

  • None free/pay services can be secure enough if the storage servers are in the U.S.

    Try European Services, the law protect user privacy in the E-Union