Every time you use a search engine to look something up on the Internet personally identifiable information will be collected by all major search engines. The search terms submitted to the search engine, as well as the time, date, and geographical location of the computer carrying out the search will be logged and stored.
The search words you enter are often stored within search boxes in your browser, your computer will normally cache those words and pages you visit, your searched for terms can be retrieved by anyone with access to the hard disk.
Do you really want search engines like Google or Bing to know everything you search for on the internet?
What information do search engines keep?
1) IP Address: Your personal computer IP address can be traced back to you through a reverse DNS lookup with tools finding out not only your ISP but also your approximate location such as State or Province.
2) Date & Time: The exact date and time you were searching for a certain keyword will be logged. The browser you use is normally also stored in search engines logs.
3) Query Terms: The terms your searched for will be stored.
4) Cookie ID: A unique code is embedded into the cookie and assigned to a particular computer by the search engine. It allows a search engine to learn if requests came from a particular computer, as long as that identifiable cookie is still stored in the browser Internet searches can be linked and traced back to you independently of what computer IP you use.
Notice that after some pressure from privacy groups some major search engines have begun to mask the computer user IP address on their search logs but this does not make your search history anonymous.
What information do search engines send to webmasters?
After you click on one of the results given by the search engine, your search terms are passed to the website server logs, that webmaster will know what search terms you used to find that site, the referring URL and your IP address, as well as other data like your Internet browser and operating system you are using and even your default browser language, all of this can help to identify you.
Privacy search engine Duck Duck Go
Your web browser automatically sends information about your user agent and IP address to the search engine but Duck Duck Go will not store it at all. This information could be used to link you to your searches and other search engines will use it to show you more targeted advertising. Duck Duck Go will go out of its way to delete that data.
At Duck Duck Go no cookies are used by default and they do not work with any affiliate program that will share personally identifiable information like name and address. Feedback at Duck Duck Go can also be given anonymous not having to enter an email address in the form (it can be left blank). This privacy search engine also allows searching via its SSL website and lots of customization options.
Duck Duck Go pulls results from Microsoft’s Bing and Google search APIs, a lot of what you’re getting are results you could find on those search engines with the added advantage that your personal privacy is respected while searching the Internet. Duck Duck Go also has its own web crawler and web index.
Privacy search engine IxQuick & Startpage
IxQuick was awarded the first European Privacy Seal, IxQuick privacy search engine will not record your IP address, other data like the search queries are deleted from the log files within a maximum of 48 hours, often sooner.
IxQuick uses the POST method to keep your search terms out of the logs of webmasters of sites that you reach from their results, the major search engines on the other hand, use the GET method which allows web servers to log what search terms you used to reach them.
You can use encrypted Secure Socket Layer (SSL) connections to carry out your search stopping your ISP from snooping on you, this is of vital importance if you are using a public computer in an internet cafe, library or at work where the network administrator can easily spy on your search terms.
IxQuick also allows for advanced syntax search and being a Metasearcher, it pulls some of it results from other major search engines like Bing, Ask or the Open Directory. IxQuick also lets you visit the chosen page with a built in proxy, the webmaster server logs will only see/log IxQuick IP address and not yours.
I tested IxQuick search proxy on my server and it also spoofs your agent ID and operating system, identifying itself as Google Chrome and Windows 7, this is a good practice as it makes even more difficult to pin you down.
The Dutch IP IxQuick search proxy gives once reversed identified itself as Webhosting customers, making it obvious it is not an ISP but a hosted proxy, the URL entry was presented as blank in the server logs, overall, their proxy for searching in privacy does a good job at keeping your privacy online.
Search engine Findx
This search engine from Denmark can be used to find webpages, images, videos and shopping, results are crawled by its own bot and it does not rely on Google or Bing, users can contribute to improve search results by rating them.
They also plan to release an Internet browser for private browsing, called Privafox in the future.
Usenet search engine BinSearch
This is not an anonymous Internet searcher but it is included on the list because it carries results that nobody else does. BinSearch specialises in crawling binary Usenet newsgroups results that are ignored by all major search engines. You can search for Usenet posts subject, filenames or .nfo and limit your search to certain newsgroup or timeframe.
Due to the huge amount of data that Usenet carries, results are refreshed every few weeks and old ones dropped, Binsearch crawls thousands of groups but it is not possible to index all of them, only the major newsgroups.
Privacy search engine Qwant
Search results come from its own crawling bot complemented with Bing, you might see advertising but it is not targeted since Qwant does not track its users. You can use this search engine to find webpages, images, videos, news, shopping, music and social. There are two versions of Qwant you can access, one of them where the search engine displays results from across multiple sources, including social media, and one light URL that only displays results for webpages without pictures, this saves bandwidth.
Tips to search the Internet with privacy
Do not accept any of the major search engines cookies, they might use them to identify you later on, if you already have a Google or Bing search engine cookie on your computer, delete them.
Do not sign up for email at the same search engine where you regularly search, your personal email address can potentially be tied up to your search terms. Using Google and Gmail (both Google products) or Bing and Hotmail (both Microsoft products) together is not a good idea.
Mix up a variety of search engines, this will spread all of your searched terms across different companies and servers. Varying the physical location you search from can also be helpful, you can use a VPN or proxy to change your computer and country IP and delete all of your search engine cookies before starting a new private searching session.