There are few quality search engines on the web due to consolidation and the startup costs involved in indexing the expansive amount of data online. There are only two key players in standard web search, Google and Bing. In the voice search domain, Alexa leads Google. So how secure are they really? There is no way to say for sure but we will attempt to rank and analyze the engines as well as study their public statements to present to you an accurate overview of how each functions and which engine might be best for you.
The safety record
There have been very few reported main stream search engine breaches, in which IP addresses and corresponding search activity were leaked online. This creates questions in and of itself about the transparency of such companies. When do they really decide to disclose that there has been a breach?
The most significant breach was of AOL in August 2006, in which detailed search logs were released and are now available online for anyone to view. 650,000 users over a 3-month period had their complete search activity leaked mistakenly online. The data was intended for research purposes.
Every search engine saves your search queries to improve the search engine for the next user. Search engine rankings:
Google has been online since the late 1990’s. Originally developed as a student project at Stanford, the idea progressed into a behemoth of a company that now spans 100’s of products and apps. The idea behind Google is that web pages or websites with the most back links rank higher (people who believe a website is informative decide to link to it via their own website or social media).
Some might consider Google to be a Monopoly, and many governments are trying to penalize them for anti-competitive actions. Google was most recently targeted by the EU for manipulating its search engine results for shopping websites, in which the EU claims Google gives favor to its own products in search results. Google was fined over 2 billion dollars, and yet they remain defiant and continue to refuse to promote competitors.
Google being such a big company, it is often unfriendly to developers and difficult to reach. They offer almost no customer support to non-paying users. Many find this a questionable practice since Google is profiting from user provided data although users are not actually paying to use many of their services.
Google has a very polished and fast search engine that provides the best results for short tail searches. For the very long tail and niche terms, some might question its usefulness. Google integrates their search functionality into their apps. Google also now uses AI to analyze search results and present the most relevant, moving away from strictly focusing on on page keywords and backlinks.
Google, as well as social media companies have recently become the target of privacy conscious web users who are concerned about how it uses the data it collects from its users. Google cooperates with government investigations and complies with gag orders, making its products subject to surveillance. Therefore if you are being surveiled it might be that you never even find out, making the use of their products by certain minority groups quite dangerous. There have been cases where journalists were being monitored because of the type of search queries they were making. Full government cooperation lowers Google’s grade significantly.
All your search terms are recorded as well as your associated IP. Google uses persistent tracking cookies to create a filter bubble, altering the results you see based on your previous queries. Google likely feels the majority of the public does not care about privacy so they do not feel obligated to tell them the truth about what is really going on. Their involvement in dangerous AI programs creates even more questions.
Google’s SSL Grade: A
Bing’s SSL Grade: A
Bing is Microsoft’s attempt to enter the search market. Most of their effort was in the early 2010’s and they have decreased their marketing activity, an admission that they cannot defeat Google. Some might question as to why Microsoft even continues to run Bing, considering so few people use it. The most likely reason Microsoft has not shut down Bing is because they are probably benefiting from heavy automation and are able to cut their costs significantly. Bing might remind many of Windows Phone, a noble effort but not good enough to get people to switch from their existing providers.
Like Google, Bing participates in government surveillance programs and actively monitors search activity. All your search terms are recorded as well as your IP. Tracking cookies are used.
Final grade: C
Yahoo is based in the U.S. and is no longer an authentic search engine. It has a partnership with Bing, so the results you see in Yahoo are provided by Bing and do not offer much in the way of being original. Yahoo has recently made a strong effort in improving the design and the way data is presented to users so it might still provide some value to users. Yahoo, like Google, participates in government investigations. Yahoo recently was caught up in a scandal that involved it giving away users entire email inbox to government agencies.
Yahoo is not a very fast search engine, relative to Google. All your search terms are recorded as well as your corresponding IP. Tracking cookies are placed in your browser.
Yahoo’s SSL Grade: A+
Startpage is based in Europe. There are two main issues with Startpage, slow page load times and some clearly untrue statements in the privacy FAQs. Within these FAQs they state that your search is not recorded, which is a play on words to make you think that your search terms are not being saved. Your search terms are being sent to Google (without your IP) so they could possibly tie your search activity to you if you include PII in your search activity. This is a dangerous play on words in our book, so it would be best that Startpage update it FAQs and be honest. Startpage is still an excellent company and they might be stretching the truth to comfort new users. Another question might be how many IPs and servers are they using to retrieve their results, because if Google can identify all of these IPs they can conduct mass surveillance on all search terms entered into Startpage.
Startpage’s SSL Grade: A+
DuckDuckGo has a policy of not recording your IP address when you search the web. They also offer a clear interface for searching the web. DuckDuckGo does not offer Google results directly on their website, therefore it would be difficult to give them an A. They are very transparent and have affiliations with privacy groups, so there is no reason not to trust them. They also offer browser tools to help maintain your privacy online.
All your search activity is recorded, although it is not tied to your IP address. A negative would be lack of clarity as to where your search queries are being sent.
DuckDuckGo’s SSL Grade: A+
That is it for our search engine rankings. We will be sure to update as time goes on.
Hilmar Ingolfsson, Senior Editor AIOIS