Worried about privacy concerns and anticompetitive practices, or maybe you just want new online search options? You have lots of choices.
By Michael Muchmore
You don’t have to use Google to google, and there are plenty of reasons not to. For one, you can avoid the privacy concerns that come with a mammoth corporation knowing so much about you from your searches and web activity. And some alternative search engines offer other benefits, such as rewards or donations to worthy causes based on how much you search.
In earlier days, the quality of web search results was a real issue. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find much difference in the results generated by one site versus another. You’re just as likely to find what you’re looking for with any search engine as you are with Google. Indeed, several of the sites included below use privatized results from Bing and Google, though some have done the work of building their own web-crawling site indexes.
Search results can, however, differ among these services. Websites have worked hard to game Google’s algorithm specifically so that their sites appear higher on the result page. For example, if you search for “Windows 11 review” on Bing, our PCMag review shows up in the fourth position, while Google has it in the number-one slot.
So if you think one mega corporation doesn’t need to know every little detail about you and profit from your information, or that one company shouldn’t control more than 90% of the world’s web searches, check out the best search engine alternatives to Google.
Coming from the innovative creators of the privacy-focused Brave web browser, Brave Search claims “unmatched privacy.” In my testing using the EFF’s Cover Your Tracks Tools, the Brave browser was the most private, so the claim has some weight behind it. According to Brave, “We don’t track you, your searches, or your clicks. Ever.” There’s no account to sign into, your IP address is used to localize results but isn’t stored, and you can turn off that access. When I enter a search in Brave Search, my ad-and-tracker blocker, uBlock, doesn’t report anything to block.
Brave search is still in beta, though it’s perfectly functional and delivers apt results. The result page is attractive. It lets you filter your search by Image, Video, and News search, but not maps or music. Brave’s search site doesn’t let you earn rewards based on your search volume, but that’s planned for later updates. It tends to be slightly slower than major search engines, however. Brave gets its results both from its own web crawling index and “anonymous API calls to third parties.”
My tracker blocker uBlock reported trackers on DuckDuckGo result pages, though they were from DuckDuckGo itself. For the ultimate in privacy, DDG offers a Tor .onion version of its search engine. If you like DuckDuckGo, you may be interested in its browser, too. The company already has browsers for mobile devices and is working on DDG desktop browsers, with the macOS version now in private beta.
Ecosia makes people feel good about their web searches because it contributes to planting trees in environmentally sensitive areas. Ecosia’s program has planted more than 147 million trees to date. This search site doesn’t deliver the most polished results pages, but I can find what I need when I use it nearly all the time.
In terms of privacy, the site says it does not “create personal profiles of you based on your search history” and anonymizes all searches within one week. UBlock Origin did find (and block) some Bing trackers, but the site is upfront about using cookies, which you can disable. Those trees don’t pay for themselves.
Strengths: Supports a worthy cause
For a search experience that’s as close to Google in terms of richness of information on the result page — and in many cases, even more useful instant result cards — Bing is it. Yes, it‘s also from a giant tech company, though one that’s a far cry from being a search monopoly. According to Statcounter, Bing receives only about 3% of search traffic worldwide and about 6% in the US.
Bing is the most full-featured contender in this group, with strong news, image, video, and map searching capabilities. Bing is known for superior image and video search options. Visual search lets you drag a picture or take a photo for your search. It also offers voice search and can answer your queries out loud if you want.
A few years ago, I named all the features that make Bing better than Google. Several more have appeared since then, including shopping savings tools and the ability to earn points while searching that turn into donations to charities. In terms of privacy, you can clear your search history or opt out of personalized advertising if you sign into an account, which is similar to how that works with Google.
Strengths: Result presentation, image search, rewards, donations
Mojeek is a UK-based search engine with a focus on privacy. Its index is completely built in-house, though it’s considerably smaller than Bing’s or Google’s. A clever and unique feature of Mojeek is its search by emotions, which uses deep machine learning to analyze the feels of a webpage. You enter your search term and then choose whether you want a result that’s happy, angry, sad, and so on. It also lets you search for images courtesy of Bing and Pixabay.
Strengths: Privacy, emotion search, independence from big tech
When you use Presearch, it rewards you with cryptocurrency. Presearch lets you search for images, videos, and news as well as webpages. Results pages are clean and clear, but without the instant answer features you get in Bing, Google, and Yahoo. But privacy is the real mission of this decentralized Web3 search site. Presearch is the only service listed here that doesn’t run on a single company’s servers, instead anonymizing your queries with distributed nodes, so your information isn’t saved by any single provider. My uBlock tracking cookie blocker found nothing to block with Presearch.
If you sign into an account, you can customize the search provider buttons from an extensive list, including Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Google. Signing in also lets you earn Presearch’s Ethereum-based crypto token, PRE, though only if you stick with Presearch’s own search engine; and there are caps on how much cryptocurrency you can earn each day. Anyone can run a node server in the distributed system to earn PRE rewards, and advertisers use PRE when bidding on keywords.
Strengths: Privacy, cryptocurrency payouts, choice of search provider
From the EU comes the anti-Google search service Qwant. Qwant has an appealing visual design and uses its own indexing robots to scan webpages for results, though it makes use of APIs from Microsoft Bing, Twitter, YouTube, and iTunes. Maps are based on the open-source OpenMapTiles, and you can privately save your map history. Qwant also makes a kid-friendly version of its search site, called Qwant Junior.
With Qwant, users can be certain that their browsing history isn’t stored, they aren’t profiled, and that they aren’t targeted through personalized ads. Though uBlock showed several tracker cookies it deemed worthy of blocking, they were all from the qwant.com domain, because it appeared in one of uBlock’s block lists. The site clearly states, “We do not track or collect our users’ data… When using Qwant, users can be certain that their browsing history isn’t stored, they aren’t profiled, and that they aren’t targeted through personalized ads.”
Strengths: Privacy, Maps, music search
Seekr has an original take on search: It uses machine learning to rate web results on reliability and ideology. So a results page shows whether each link leans right-wing, left-wing, or center. It also shows a result’s reliability, meaning whether it’s clickbait or uses an exaggerated title. For news results, you can use sliders to filter for higher reliability or left or right political leans. All these tools seems ripe for actively increasing people’s biases and society’s divisions. Since Seekr’s evaluations are algorithmically based, they works on any English-language websites around the world; Seekr doesn’t yet rate non-English sites but has that on its roadmap.
Strengths: Shows political leanings and page reliability
Startpage uses privatized Google search results, and it’s upped its previously primitive interface game lately. The company makes a bold claim, saying it’s the world’s most private search engine. You get choices of Web, Images, Videos, and News when searching. Its Anonymous View option lets you click on a mask icon next to a result to view the found webpage via a proxy server, without providing any data about yourself to the site you’re visiting.
Before sending the query, Startpage removes your IP address and any other info and only then submits to the query. The uBlock tracking blocker found no tracking cookies to block.
Switzerland-based Swisscows offers a VPN, a private messaging app, and private email as well as this privacy-focused search site that donates to worthy causes when you use it. Nefarious sites and adult content are not included in Swisscows’ results, so it’s a good choice for younger users. In addition to having the typical Web, Images, and Video search result filters across the top, Swisscows has a Music option, which lets you play tunes from the free Soundcloud service.
On the result page, you can use a clever Anonymous preview so that the found site you want to visit doesn’t know you’re viewing it. It’s just an image of the site that’s not clickable, but you can read a whole page without any tracking. Another unique tool, Digest, creates a shorter summary of information that you drag and drop, paste, or upload from a URL or file. It’s great for long news articles.
Swisscows claims to use its own search engine and says it doesn’t use any tracking technologies or store any information about you. Tracker blocker uBlock Origin didn’t have to block any suspicious trackers.
Strengths: Privacy, donations to causes, music search, digest feature
The once-dominant and later-derided Yahoo Search has gotten its act together lately. If you go to search.yahoo.com, you’ll see a Bing-like striking background image with a search box in the center and buttons for the company’s other services. Lower on the page are local weather forecasts and trending searches and articles.
Yahoo’s search result pages feature quick answers, though not in as quite a polished format as Bing and Google. That said, among the services included here, Yahoo Search has the fullest answer pages after those two big players. Yahoo uses Bing to power search results, though it also has its own technology for a panel of Trending searches and other features. uBlock Origin doesn’t find any trackers it needs to block in the Yahoo site.
Strengths: News and information
For more web browsing goodness, read our roundup up of the best web browsers, Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, or Safari: Which Browser Is Best? To add privacy to that mix, read Stop Trackers Dead: The Best Private Browsers