The best search engines to use, if you’re tired of Google



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Google is undisputed king of the search engine hill, by volume of users alone. But, there are better and more private options. Here are the biggest Google alternatives.

When it comes to using an online search engine, the overwhelming majority — 92 percent worldwide, according to Statcounter — use Google as their search engine, whether by default or by choice. Some regions rely on it almost exclusively, like India, while in a few places it isn’t easily available — such as China.

In those places, the government has replaced Google search with state-run or locally-controlled alternatives, such as Baidu (China) and Yandex (Russia). It is assumed that such governments gather data on users very aggressively, following Google’s model.

Google’s chief search rivals — including Bing and the former most popular engine, Yahoo — can’t seem to make a serious dent in Google’s dominance. In North America, for example, Bing manages a mere seven percent of search queries, while Yahoo doesn’t even manage half of Bing’s popularity, with three percent.

US stats on the most popular search engines

US stats on the most popular search engines

Much of Google’s popularity is the result of user inertia alongside genuine consumer satisfaction. In addition, Google uses aggressive promotion to convert users to its search engine, including pop-ups offering to help switch users’ default search every time an Edge user visits a Google site.

Naturally, Google uses its own search in its browser Chrome, now the most frequently-used browser, and it pays Apple billions per year to be the default search in Safari, Spotlight, and Siri. Effectively, Google pays Apple not just to provide services to Apple users, but also to prevent Apple from entering the search engine market.

Over the last two years, there have been numerous rumors that Apple will nonetheless eventually develop or unveil its own search technology to launch a universal Google competitor. So far, however, there’s been no obvious move from the company to rid itself of the lucrative Google deal.

Many users are just in the habit of starting any exploration of the internet by going to Google.com first, or setting it as their default start page. Users across a wide age range (but tending to have been born before the home-computer generations) are often under the impression that the only easy way to find a website is to search for it in Google first.

It would take a lot to even come close to knocking Google off their “king of search” pedestal, given that it processes around 5.6 billion queries per day. The company doesn’t reveal the average number of daily active users (DAU), but for comparison Facebook claims nearly two billion DAU, so it is likely that Google’s count is similar — or even higher.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a few serious rivals. Baidu, for example, had 218 million average daily users as of the end of last year, thanks to its near-monopoly in China.

The best alternatives to using Google for search in the US

Google’s search engine is the most popular in the world for a reason: it collects an astonishing amount of data about you more-or-less continuously. Thus, it can offer results very personalized for what it thinks you will click on, as well as based on recent behavior.

Some find this convenient, many find it disturbing, but its effectiveness is revealed in Google’s fiscal results: outside of monetizing your data, it has no significant other income. Last year, Google alone reported nearly $257 billion in revenue, which accounted for 80 percent of the income of its parent company, Alphabet.

Due primarily to Google’s ubiquity and data-monetization practices, other web-based search engines have emerged to offer effective alternatives. In addition to newer alternatives, it may surprise web veterans to know that a couple of the original search engines are still around, including Yahoo and Ask.com (formerly Ask Jeeves).

Some very small search engine sites claim to offer total anonymity and high security, or specialize in scouring the darker corners of the web. However, it is difficult to verify these claims, or determine how such services pay for themselves, so we won’t be covering those here.

Instead, we’ll compare the king of the hill to a handful of alternative search websites that offer search with a different spin, or alongside other services. We’ll compare strengths and weaknesses, as well as assign an overall privacy-centric score.

A typical Google homepage, minus a pop-up asking users to switch to Chrome.

A typical Google homepage, minus a pop-up asking users to switch to Chrome.

Where Google excels: Exemplary database of business information, myriad extra services available if desired, fast and highly personalized results, available in a wide variety of outlets.

Where Google falls down: Massive collection and monetization of user data on a far more intimate level that most users are aware, manipulated rankings, and no discernible ethics regarding sales of personal data except where forced to comply with regulations or laws. Often prefers to pay fines and carry on over reforming itself.

Privacy: On a scale of 1 to 5, Google rates a one, but probably deserves a zero.

Bing

Where Google keeps its search engine page sparse, with barely more than a colorful logo and a text-entry box, Microsoft’s Bing naturally tries to overcompensate. Visitors will be greeted with some beautiful photography, marred by the white text bar, with the page’s understated but incredibly corporate “Microsoft Bing” logo, and trailed by some monetized clickbait “news” stories.

Those who scroll down get rewarded with the original photo and the story behind it, followed by the useful “previous images” collection and “this day in history” feature. Actually inputting a query takes you to a very Google-esque page of links, along with summaries and tips (if relevant), followed by videos, more links, and further subsections of related material.

Bing's page is equal parts great photos and confusing clutter.

Bing’s page is equal parts great photos and confusing clutter.

Bing can be set as the default search engine on almost any browser. It is, of course, the default search engine on the Edge browser for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android.

Where Bing excels: Users can see the effort made in trying to provide links and related material that is as relevant as possible to the search or question asked at the very top of the page. It must drive the Bing team mad that the most frequently-searched term is “Google.”

For example, a search on Bing for a driver for a specific printer actually does surface as the “top hit” the legitimate page of the actual maker of said driver. If you try the same with Google, a half-dozen scammers or malware merchants have paid Google in order to top the results and burying the actual answer — and not just for this category, but for every category.

Where Bing falls down: Bing does collect data on its users for monetization and ad-targeting purposes and does some limited tracking, though users do have the option of erasing their search history. The clickbait news-scams down the page should really be beneath a rich company like Microsoft, but there they are.

Bing Privacy: Bing is more privacy-protective that Google, but that’s not saying much. Of the top three search engines, Bing might actually be the best in pure results — so we’ll give it a 2 out of 5.

DuckDuckGo

Outside of the top three, a relative veteran that has been slowly increasing its foothold since 2008 is DuckDuckGo. The service essentially anonymizes your search query, then feeds it to Microsoft’s Bing, showing you the results without the intrusiveness — or benefit — of Google’s more personalized findings.

The company makes its revenue by showing ads connected to the search terms alongside the results, but the results nor any clicks are added to a profile of users. No record is kept of one’s past searches, and the neither the ads nor the site track user behavior as they continue to surf, again unlike Google.

Users can opt to set or change a default search engine in most browsers, or might opt to simply make a preferred search engine as the home page of their browser of choice. You can set DuckDuckGo as the default search engine in the four most popular browsers: Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox.

Where DuckDuckGo excels: A sustainable revenue model and additional privacy-focused products, and improving name recognition among privacy-focused web surfers.

Where DuckDuckGo falls down: Relies on Bing for non-personalized results. Its separate browser app for iOS includes a Bing tracker.

DuckDuckGo Privacy: Some smaller private search engines go further than DDG, for example obscuring any URL with search terms visible to people looking over your shoulder, but on the whole we’d give DuckDuckGo’s search engine an 3.5 out of 5.

Brave’s search engine claims to be one of the most private search engines around. It does this by simply not collecting any information about its users at all. Unlike DuckDuckGo, Brave doesn’t rely on another company’s index to produce results; it created its own index from scratch.

Brave is a good choice for a basic browser, though nowhere near as full-featured as Safari or Firefox. That said, while Brave does not offer a search extension for users of other browsers, the search engine’s own web page — search.brave.com — can be bookmarked on all of them.

Where Brave Search excels: A browser and search engine combo that emphasizes and delivers the best alternative private search available, using its own index.

Where Brave Search falls down: Has had difficulty finding a mainstream audience due ironically to its privacy-centric policies.

Brave Search Privacy: 5 out of 5

Ecosia

Ecosia.org is an ecologically-oriented search engine that, like DuckDuckGo, offers anonymized Bing results, but uses its Bing affiliation and revenues generated from ads to plant trees around the world. The site does not store user searches indefinitely, nor allow third-party tracking tools, or sell any data gathered from users to non-Microsoft advertisers.

Users can opt to turn off all Ecosia’s own “product improvement” tracking if desired, but it does require some small effort to do so. Ecosia can be set as the default search engine in Safari, Brave, Vivaldi, Firefox, and Chrome.

Where Ecosia excels: On par with DuckDuckGo for search, but uses its profits for a very worthy cause.

Where Ecosia falls down: Uses tracking for its own “product improvement” unless users make the effort to turn that off.

Startpage

Startpage is similar to DuckDuckGo and Ecosia, except that it uses Google rather than Bing to get results to your anonymized query. It bills itself as “the world’s most private search,” and its policies of no cookies, no search history retention, and no IP or location records support the company’s claim.

Startpage's spartan welcome screen, in dark mode.

Startpage’s spartan welcome screen, in dark mode.

Like Google and Yahoo, Startpage also offers email. It also features an anonymizing proxy page that hides your identity and location as you browse the internet, if desired.

In 2019, a marketing and advertising company called System1 invested in Startpage, raising suspicions among the search site’s users that the privacy of the site has been compromised. Small promotional messages have since appeared on the main page, but thus far it does not appear to have changed the overall mission or policies of Startpage.

Where Startpage excels: Completely anonymous search.

Where Startpage falls down: Transparency with its users about System1’s involvement.

Startpage Privacy: It would be a 5, but we’re deducting a point due to the company’s lack of candor in its funding model, so 4 out of 5.

Ask.com

Ask.com may be a nostalgia trip for veteran internet users, but it continues to focus on its original offering from 1996: answering questions rather than simply offering pages of links. It outsourced its search engine technology many years ago, and instead pulls from multiple sources — including a crowdsourced expert community — to compile answers.

As with the bigger-name search engines, Ask gathers question, location, and other user data, and sells this to advertisers. It does offer an opt-out on its tracking practices, but it cannot be set as a default search on any mainstream browsers.

Where Ask excels: The question-based approach results in actual answers rather than just links.

Where Ask falls down: The site’s privacy policy outlines clearly the kind of information it collects, such as location, IP address, and query history. The site also explicitly states that it “shares” this information (also known as “selling this information”) to advertisers and other vendors/partners.

Tracking users can only be avoided if the visitor is from California (where Ask complies with state law), and even then only if said user opts-out. Broadly speaking, Ask’s gathering and use/sale of user data is on par with most commercial websites.

Ask Privacy: 1.5 out of 5

Yahoo

Yahoo, founded in 1994 and thus the earliest still-in-operation website search engine, bought up many of its rivals (such as Altavista) before falling from grace in the face of Google’s superior data-driven search results in the late 2000s. It continues to offer search and other services, such as email, but is a pale shadow of its former glory as the “door to the internet.”

Currently, the portal is owned by investment firm Apollo Global Management, which holds 90 percent ownership of the company. Like Google, its usage terms disclose that the company analyzes and sells the data it collects both on its site and via tracking technology.

Yahoo's page (white spaces are blocked ads).

Yahoo’s page (white spaces are blocked ads).

Although it seems to be in a pre-death holding pattern, it remains one of the original multi-purpose “portal” sites, offering news and weather alongside a (poor) email service and search. Yahoo can be set as the default search engine on Safari, Chrome, and Firefox.

Where Yahoo excels: Survival.

Where Yahoo falls down: Mediocre email service and search, coupled with outsourced news and advertorial “content.”

Yahoo Privacy: 1 out of 5.

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