When it comes to search engines, you might think there's just one name in town – Google. You could be forgiven for thinking this. The tech giant handles a massive 3.5 billion searches a day through its service, and it's the go-to search engine for many. However, there are plenty of Google search alternatives, including some services that won't track your activity or target you for advertising.
One of these is DuckDuckGo, which this month is celebrating hitting 30 million daily searches. A drop in the ocean compared to Google, maybe, but an impressive number all the same for this decade-old company that decided to put privacy before profit.
We take a look at some of the best alternatives to using Google search. These great tools can help you keep your profile low online…
Best Google Search Alternatives to Choose
- DuckDuckGo – An innovative search engine that puts data protection at the core of everything it does
- Chrome Incognito – It may still be Google, but this is quick way to mask your searches
- Bing Search – Microsoft's much-maligned search engine isn't too bad, and has excellent video features
- Yahoo! Search – A faded star trying to recapture its former glory, Yahoo! is functional, if unexciting
- Tor browser – Tor's dedicated browser does clever things with your data to hide your activity
- Opera browser – Opera has a built-in and free VPN which routes your traffic through dedicated private servers
DuckDuckGo's entire ethos is to provide a secure search engine that doesn't compromise your privacy. It's become something of a poster child for anonymity online, and is probably the best known of the private search engines.
It makes no bones about what Google gets up to you with your data, and isn't afraid to sling arrows at the Big G on Twitter, while promoting its own alternative.
If you're wondering how DuckDuckGo makes money, then the answer, predictably, is advertising. However, unlike Google, which uses your data to build a profile of you as a consumer and target adverts accordingly, the adverts served on DuckDuckGo are based purely on the search results, rather than your own tracked activity.
In terms of switching over from Google, DuckDuckGo's makes things easy thanks to a super-clean and straightforward interface.
It might seem counter-intuitive to suggest Chrome's Incognito mode as an alternative to a standard Google search. But, this is a quick way for Chrome users to carry out secret, non-tracked searches while still using Google's search engine. This means any activity won't be associated with your Google account, nor stored in your search history.
Click the menu icon in Chrome, then select New Incognito Window, and you're away. You can then search for a Christmas present for your partner without them finding out. That is what you were doing, right?
Incognito isn't a magic bullet though, and your activity might still be able to be seen by the websites you're visiting and their advertisers, as well as the network you're using, and your ISP.
The level of discretion is more surface level – your searches won't show up in your local history, so you won't get rumbled by other people in your household, but data can still be tracked (albeit anonymously, so it won't contribute to Google's picture of you as a user).
Microsoft's search engine used to be a geek punchline, and then people stopped talking about it altogether. It still exists though, and attracts 12 billion searches a month, a not insignificant sum.
What does Bing do better than Google? Okay, not a great deal, but…it does have a pretty picture on its front page everyday, which is nice.
Ok, maybe that's a bit facetious. If there's one area that Bing does excel, it's video search. Google's approach is positively archaic by comparison. Search for a video and you're presented with a list of ten, a preview window and the option to click onto the next page. It's the same approach the site uses for text searches.
Bing, however lays out the videos in a grid, and gives your the power of infinite scroll – there's no need to click through to the next page here. However, the real clincher is the fact that you can hover over each image for an animated preview of the video. It's a great time-saver.
In terms of privacy, it's possible to erase your Bing searches from Microsoft's database, but you need to do this after the fact, and must have a Microsoft account.
Yahoo! Search is the high school jock from twenty years ago. Once the centre of attention, now struggling to be noticed and remembering better days. It even relies on Microsoft's Bing to fuel its search results, so if you're using Bing, there's little point moving to Yahoo.
Does Yahoo! Search offer anything new? Not really.
It has the same excellent video search as Bing, but that's about it. It's worth noting that if you're a FireFox user, Yahoo won't track your activity if you have your ‘Do Not Track' feature enabled in your browser, thanks to an agreement with Mozilla.
As well as search engines, there are also secure web browsers you can use to boost your privacy. One of these is the Tor browser is designed to protect its users' anonymity online. It does this by routing your data through various locations and bouncing you around different servers to reach your location.
Think of it like a car chase in the movies, where the car ahead is taking backstreets and detours to lose its pursuer.
It's not bulletproof however, and as your traffic isn't taking a direct route to its location, it can slow you down considerably. However, it you're looking to carry out internet activity in relative privacy, using the services of the Tor browser isn't a bad idea.
Another browser option, Opera has a neat trick up its sleeve – a built-in VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a sought-after service for the covert-conscious. It masks your data by routing it through different servers. This give the illusion that you're located elsewhere. They are very difficult to track, and can be very robust, depending on the provider.
This, of course, will make precious little difference to your search privacy if you're still using Google search, while logged into your Google account. But, combined with another search engine, you can enjoy even better search privacy via Opera.
We've tested the VPN aspect of Opera, and our conclusion was that it's fine. Note that we don't say perfect, or great. Unlike ‘proper VPNs', it only masks your activities within the browser, for instance – there's no extra protection for the rest of your internet connection.
It'll do in a pinch, though, and for a free product it's relatively full-featured. Still, during testing, we did find some evidence of leaks, which could compromise your privacy.
Read our full review of the Opera browser
Using a VPN
If you like the idea of a VPN, but aren't sure that Opera's offering can provide the level of privacy you'd like, then consider a dedicated VPN. There are plenty to choose from, and from a couple of bucks a month they can allow you daily browsing with peace of mind that better online privacy can give.
Paid-for VPNs carry with them a larger suite of options, such as deciding which programs to associate with the VPN, which servers you want to route your traffic through, plus killswitch functions, which stop your activity dead if the VPN fails.
Below are three of the best VPNs according to our rigorous testing.
- Effective privacy and security features
- Smart Mode-based approach
- Clear notifications
- Excellent value
- Not quite as fast as billed
- Doesn’t unblock Netflix unless you use the browser extension
- Controls a proportion of its server network
- Solid privacy and security features
- Decent speeds
- Slightly intimidating user interface
- Hasn't made the switch to RAM servers
- Priced above some rivals
- Strong global presence
- Great features and control for expert users
- Impressive VPN performance
- Fully-featured Linux GUI
- Not great for less experienced users
- Awkward sign-up process
- Unblocking abilities could be better