We know that social media sites like Facebook track what you like to show you relevant ads. But did you know you also need to protect your privacy from search engines?
Search Engine Tracking
The most common use of the Internet is to search for a certain something. You can type in just about anything — like a famous person’s name, dictionary entries, historical dates, historical events or any sort of keyword — and these engines will provide you with millions of results in the form of text, images, or videos in a very well ordered fashion. Doing this without the internet could cost you hours of time and resources. In some cases, you wouldn’t even be able to find the information you were looking for.
We have an entire article on how you can optimize your searches for efficiency as well.
As such, we have come to rely on search engines for how useful and efficient they are. However, something you need to know is that your search engine is tracking you. Most search engines — including the most commonly used ones like Google, Youtube, and Yahoo — have the ability to log your individual search keywords, browsing history, IP address and HTTP cookies.
This can be concerning. Most of these search engines claim that they collect data to improve their user’s browsing experience and provide better results. However, they can sell this data to advertisers, which put the userbase’s data and privacy at risk. The best way to get around this is to not use the search engine at all. But that isn’t really a solution, is it?
So, here is are a few alternatives to protect your search engine privacy:
Using a Private Search Engine
Private search engines present you with almost the same results as popular search engines like Google, minus the tracking part. Popular private search engines like DuckDuckGo, Startpage, and MetaGer value your data and protect your privacy from search engine tracking.
Some of these may save your search history. However, it is solely for the sake of better results and to improve things like misspellings. These search engines refer to other websites’ results and redirect them to you. They act as a middleman and keep you safe from being tracked.
Aside from protecting your privacy, these search engines also offer an easy-to-use interface, various customizable settings, search type filters and even extensions for your browser.
Also, check out our article on Mobile Security to stay protected even on mobile devices.
Browsing with a VPN
A VPN, or a Virtual Private Network, is a service that routes your device’s internet connection through the VPN’s own server, thereby concealing your data and location.
Chances are that your ISP records all your internet activity; if they sell this data to other third-party companies, however, is another question. By using a VPN to mask your real location and disguising it as another location from a VPN’s available servers, you make it hard for hackers, companies, and even the government to track you.
That being said, not all VPN services are good, especially the free options. Nothing really comes free. When you use a VPN service, you are trusting the provider with your data which is transferred through them. So, in this case, it comes to whether you trust a VPN company more or your own ISP.
Paid options, however, offer much better service and credibility albeit at a small price.
Before you opt for a paid VPN service, you need to watch out for something called the Five Eyes treaty, also known as the Nine eyes or Fourteen Eyes treaty. It is an alliance of countries that originally started as a military intelligence-sharing agreement. But they have now evolved into monitoring private communication worldwide. The countries included are the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
The deal with this is that if your VPN is under the jurisdiction of one of these aforementioned countries, the government can order a subpoena and check what sort of data is being transferred. Your VPN will likely fight against it for the sake of its users’ privacy or its own reputation as a privacy service, but the government will prevail nonetheless sooner or later. So, if you’re really paranoid or don’t want the government to snoop on your data, you should opt for VPN services that operate outside of these countries that promise to not store your data. Some examples of these are NordVPN and ExpressVPN.
On a serious note, a VPN is how journalists in oppressed or war-torn countries communicate and hide from the government’s clutches.
Using the Tor Browser
The Tor Browser is a free and open-source web browser that routes your web traffic to several proxies and changes it every 10 minutes to make it extremely difficult to identify the real person behind the screen using Tor. It is an almost perfect way of protecting your privacy from search engines.
While Tor’s security is great, it takes a bit of a hit when it comes to bandwidth. This is because your traffic is jumping through several nodes while surfing the internet. As such, Tor is for you if you only use the internet for emails or web searches.
Tor blocks file-sharing and downloads by default because file sharing slows down everyone else’s speed. Tor also blocks plug-ins like Flash player or YouTube as plug-ins can easily ruin your anonymity.
Block Website Cookies
You can manually block or delete cookies on a website to prevent this. However, not all websites are accessible without cookies. So, you can customize your browser to only store cookies for the duration of your browsing session. Your browser will delete these cookies as soon as you close it.
Protecting Privacy from Search Engines
When all is said and done, you aren’t guaranteed 100% privacy with any of the methods. There are always other ways that people or organizations can use to poke at your privacy and find information about you, but you’re probably not someone like a political terrorist looking for ways to hide from the government. But using these steps can significantly reinforce your online privacy and security and as it is with everything else, a little protection is better than no protection.