How to Make Your Web Searches More Secure and Private
By David Nield │WIRED│6 min
When it comes to looking something up on the web, most of us default to Googling it—the search engine has become so dominant that it’s now a verb, in the same way that Photoshop is. But using Google for your searches comes with a privacy trade-off.
Google’s business is, of course, based on advertising, and every search you make feeds into the profile of you that it uses to target the ads you see around the web. While Google isn’t telling marketing firms what searches you’re running, it is using those queries to build up a picture of you that ads can be sold against.
While Google has made moves to limit this data collection—introducing tools for auto-deleting your web history after a certain time period, for example—you might want to switch to a different search provider that doesn’t log your queries. And if you want to stick with Google, there are ways to limit the amount of data that gets recorded.
Having previously been known for a privacy-focused browser, Brave has now launched its own search engine—albeit one that’s labeled as a beta product, so expect the occasional bug and technical issue to appear. Even at this early stage, it’s impressively comprehensive, and of course you’re trying it as much for its security and privacy as for the results you get.
Simply put, no logs of your queries are kept by the search engine. While that might make for a slightly less convenient user experience—Google might automatically know you’re more interested in the Miami Dolphins than actual dolphins, for instance—it does mean that you can search without worrying that you’re going to see any related advertising.
“It’s impossible for us to share, sell, or lose your data, because we don’t collect it in the first place,” says Brave. While the service might eventually become ad-supported, those adverts won’t know anything about you or what you’ve been looking for on the web, making it distinctly different from Google’s offering.
You can access the Brave search engine from any web browser and any device (you don’t have to use the Brave browser to use it). Getting around the interface is as simple and straightforward as you would expect: Simply type out your query, hit Enter, and wait for the results to show up. You can look for Images, News, or Videos as well as websites using the buttons at the top of the results page.DuckDuckGo SearchLimiting Google
You’ll also see drop-down menus above your search results that let you filter them by location and time. Depending on what keywords you’ve used, you might also see a Local results tab—this will temporarily make use of your IP address to find results from regional sites, but this IP address isn’t saved. As soon as you close down the Brave search tab, everything is forgotten.
DuckDuckGo has been around for much longer than the Brave search engine, and so it has more in the way of features and options. Its focus is the same: to help you search the web privately, without your queries being registered. It pulls data from hundreds of different sources, including the Microsoft Bing search engine and Apple Maps.
As with the Brave search engine, your searches are never logged or recorded—every time you turn up at the DuckDuckGo portal, you’re seen as a new user. You will notice advertising alongside the search results that you get through DuckDuckGo, but these ads aren’t targeted, and the advertising networks behind them don’t know anything about you.
DuckDuckGo is very straightforward to use: Just type your query into the main search box and hit the Enter key to get started. For certain queries, like celebrity names or places that can be found on a map, you might see pop-out boxes alongside your main search results. For topical searches, a few recent news updates might be included too.
Along the top of the search results list you’ll see ways of filtering the matches that you’re seeing. You can focus on Images, Videos, News, Maps, or Shopping for example, as well as set filters based on location or the time that a page was last updated. Use the Settings link on the right to change the appearance of the results page and to change various other DuckDuckGo options.
It’s worth bearing in mind that if you’re using Google Chrome and you’re signed into Google, you may well be syncing your DuckDuckGo or Brave searches back to your Google account. Your Google web history and your Chrome browsing history (if you’re signed into Google) will match up most of the time, because Google keeps them in sync by default, partly to make it easier to use Google across multiple devices.
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To stop this from happening in Chrome, click the three dots in the top right-hand corner, then choose Settings. If you see that you’re signed into your Google account at the very top, click Turn off—this will break the connection between Google and your browser, and you’ll be given the option to delete all the data that’s stored locally on your device (including your browsing history, bookmarks, and stored passwords).
Perhaps an easier option is to simply switch to another browser altogether—as we’ve already mentioned, Brave has one. Other good cross-platform alternatives to Chrome are Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Safari from Apple—but whichever one you switch to, be sure to check out the settings for deleting your browsing history as you go. (All of these browsers have simple-to-use options for this.)
Whichever browser you decide to use, opening up a private or incognito window while you’re searching will prevent those searches from being logged inside the browser—as soon as you close the window, the search is gone forever. Bear in mind that these modes don’t necessarily stop online companies from tracking your queries though. (If you sign into your Google account while in private mode, Google will still be able to track you.)
If you can’t bring yourself to be parted from the search results that Google serves up, you can at least make sure that they’re not remembered for too long. Open up your Google account settings page on the web, then click Data & personalization and Web & App Activity: You can choose either Manage activity to remove history and searches manually, or select the Auto-delete option to have this data wiped automatically once it’s been stored for a certain amount of time.
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