Without even thinking about it, we type SO MUCH personal information into this tiny little rectangle known as a search bar. But what if there were a way to search anonymously? In this tutorial, we’re going to explore some free and simple ways to do more private search online.
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There are so many different reasons why you might want to keep your online searches private. and no, I’m certainly not condoning anything illegal or destructive to your marriage or health.
Some legitimate reasons to want private search include:
- Checking on embarrassing health symptoms;
- An unexpected pregnancy that you’re not ready to reveal;
- Mental health issues that you don’t want the whole world to know about;
- Searching for lingerie for your spouse and not wanting those ads following you around everywhere;
- Any personal or financial searches on a work computer;
Your privacy online starts with your search, and thankfully there are ways that you can start making your online searches anonymous. For the purpose of this article, we’ll be looking at the Startpage search engine.
*Note: This is a sponsored article. The views expressed are still my own.
How Can We Search Anonymously Online?
The first thing you need to understand is that using the incognito window of your browser does not offer a shred of privacy. Nor does doing any kind of search on a browser that is already logged into your Facebook, Google, Twitter or Amazon accounts.
You’ve been lulled into a false sense of privacy.
Although there is no such thing as a 100%, foolproof online privacy method, there are private search engines like Startpage that are a heck of a lot better than the public alternatives.
We’re going to be using Startpage as our foundation here because:
- It’s protected by the data privacy laws of the European Union: The EU privacy laws are considerably stronger than those of the United States, where many other search engines are based.
- They don’t store your searches and data: Unlike other search engines, they don’t keep a record of what you’ve searched…or even that you have made a search!
- They use Google search results: Startpage has a special agreement with Google to use their arguably superior search results.
Startpage is Google without the privacy headaches.
They still make money via advertisements, but those ads are based strictly on the search term itself and nothing else. In other words, traditionally an advertisement might be shown to you based on your age, estimated income, location, previous searches, etc, but with Startpage, all ads are simply a direct response to what you just typed in. And that’s how a service like this can remain free.
How to Use Startpage for Private Search
Now it’s easy enough to just type in Startpage.com into your browser and start searching, and that definitely works. You can type in your search query into the bar just like you would with any other search engine.
But to really take advantage of a private search engine like this, there are four tips to use it effectively.
Tip #1: Make Private Search the Default
If you want the always-on security to search or browse the internet anonymously, it makes a difference how you’ve set your default search settings within your browser.
And since most of us usually start our searches by typing the question or query into the browser address bar, that means changing your default search engine. If you use the Brave or Vivaldi browsers, you’ll see Startpage as a default option. For all other browsers, including Firefox and Chrome, you can install an easy extension by visiting add.startpage.com to set it as your default.
Now, when I search in my address bar, I’m automatically getting results from Startpage’s private search engine that doesn’t store my IP address or history of search terms.
Tip #2: Control Your Search Data Flow
What exactly does that mean?
Your personal location and prior browsing history data can really make or break good search results, which is why private search can be really tricky.
Jumping into the settings dashboard for Startpage, you’ll find that you have control of a lot more than you realize to get the most relevant results in your preferred language. You can specify which region you want to filter results from, so if you’re in the United States, you’ll likely want to get search results that benefit you as a resident of the US.
I also want to control where my search data is routed.
In the case of Startpage, I can either have them choose the closest/fastest server or I can specifically choose the EU or the US. Because of the strict privacy laws that I mentioned earlier, I almost always choose EU. Sometimes this is a bit slower, but it adds an extra layer of protection.
Tip #3: Use the Anonymous View Feature
Anonymous View is a unique feature I really love with Startpage.
When you click the little mask icon next to the search result, instead of being sent directly to the website, you’ll essentially be viewing the website through a Startpage protected window.
Normally, when you click over to a website from a search page, even from a private search engine, you’re leaving the safety of that protected environment and now the website you visit has a full view of your IP address, your device specs, and other information it can use to fingerprint you.
With Anonymous View, the website only sees the Startpage as its visitor, not you. You’re using Startpage as a proxy, which not only allows you remain anonymous for any website you don’t particularly trust, but it also gives you the added benefit of forcing an https-secured connection.
In other words, you could even use this as a way to confidently surf the web on a public network at coffee shops or airports without fear of leaking any data. Even your internet service provider can’t see your browsing history with Anonymous View.
Tip #4: Use the Advanced Search Techniques
You need to learn how to perform advanced searches within the search bar.
With Startpage, there are two ways to do this, and the first is to simply mimic what’s possible on Google since you’re getting the same search results.
For example, you can search for “mustang” and get results about the car, but if you want to do a search to exclude certain terms, you can easily do that by adding a hyphen. So if you knew you weren’t searching for a car, you could type “mustang -cars” and get results that aren’t all about the Ford Mustang.
You can search a specific website by typing your search term and then “site:” followed by the website address.
You can use quotes to search exact phrase matches or even an asterisk if you have specific lyrics you can’t remember.
In addition to these general Google search hacks, though, Startpage also has their own summary results feature they call “Instant Answers”. For example, you can search time zone differences by inputting time x to y, so if I’m scheduling a call with somebody in the eastern time zone, but I’m here in the Indo-China time zone, I type in 9pm ict to est.
The same goes for currency conversion, so you could type in “convert 100 usd to baht” to get the current exchange rate between US dollars and Thai baht.
For weather, you can type in “weather” followed by any city or zip code. You can ask for a translation by typing “translate privacy to spanish” or translate any word into any language.
Are Private Search Engines Any Good?
The point of all of this is to show you that not only is private search possible, it also doesn’t require you to sacrifice everything in terms of search quality or functionality.
In fact, you gain a lot of extra control of how your search data is stored, where the data is routed, and how you visit those websites.
Online privacy starts with your searches, and Startpage, along with other private search engines, is a great way to do that.