Security & Privacy

Meet StartPage, the World’s Most Private Search Engine

Posted on November 17th, 2017 by

StartPage Private Search Engine

These days, most of us are well aware that everything we do online is valuable to someone. Our browsing habits, shopping habits, email activity and, of course, the searches we perform are collected, analyzed and sold or used for advertisement purposes. This is why you often see ads related to your web searches.

In other words, using a search engine is similar to handing out your private information, your habits and details about your life. You may not want to do that, and for this reason we introduce you to StartPage, dubbed "the world's most private search engine." Before we get into the nitty gritty of this tantalizing search engine, first let's dive into a bit more about why search privacy is important.

Why Search Privacy is Important

The things we type into search engines can be very personal. Maybe you’re researching a medication or illness, maybe you are curious if there are others out there who have sleep issues like you do, or maybe you just want to find that site with amazing Mac related security news (you’ve found it by the way!). Whatever you may be searching for, chances are you do not want someone else to see some or most of your search history.

Using some of the most known search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing you can be sure your search behavior, results you click on and most likely the sites you visit after that are stored, lined to you, analyzed and used to build a detailed profile of your online activities. Currently, the most well known search engine that offers you private and anonymous searching is DuckDuckGo, which Intego has written about before.

However, there are other players out there though that offer the same or similar privacy as DuckDuckGo — one of them is StartPage.

Why You Should Consider StartPage

StartPage is a search engine that has been around since 1998. In 2005, they decided to dedicate themselves to privacy after a liability audit showed they were sitting on mountains of private, sensitive user information; search queries, times and dates of visits, links that were clicked on, IP addresses and more. They had never sold user data before or used that data commercially, and yet because it appeared like collecting all that data could become a privacy liability, they decided to do away with all of it. Shortly after in 2006, all of the old data was deleted and new data stored for only 48 hours. In 2009, they stopped recording IP addresses completely.

The new policy was simple, “We never collect personal data on our users.”

Initially named Ixquick, the search engine was traditionally found by users through word-of-mouth, but their excellent privacy claims, third-party Privacy Seal certification, and the solid search results ensured word got out. Over the years, even without massive ad campaigns, spammy pop-ups and millions of marketing dollars, its user base grew steadily. And the business ultimately decided to rebrand with the name StartPage, which certainly helped make the service easier to remember; but still today, the name “StartPage” may not ring a bell for most people. It's a fairly unknown privacy gem in the search engine world.

StartPage on Mac and iOS

The biggest hurdle for StartPage is that it is currently not included as a search engine option in macOS and iOS. Users have to actively seek out StartPage and take steps to make it the preferred search engine on their Mac or iOS device. Apart from mentions on blogs, websites and social media, you won’t see any advertisements or pop-ups telling you about the service. Why, you might ask? Is it run by someone in a garage? Not at all. In fact, StartPage makes money just like every other search engine through small ads in the search results and through another service they run: StartMail.

All the money they make goes right back into software development and further privacy enhancements. They simply prefer to spend the money where it counts rather than spend it on advertising. After all, those who want private search will look for the best option and tend to find out about them one way or another.

So what makes StartPage a good private search engine? A few of the highlights:

  • Your IP address is not recorded
  • Your browser is not recorded
  • Your operating system is not recorded
  • Your search queries are not recorded
  • No tracking or identifying cookies are used

The full details on how StartPage protects your privacy can be found on its privacy policy page, where they discuss “How we protect you” and answer additional questions on its Q&A page. There have been independent investigations of their privacy claims as well, by yours truly, which you can read about here.

StartPage's Competitive Advantage in Privacy

One of my absolute favorite features of StartPage is its proxy.

With most other search engines that offer privacy, that privacy is protected as long as you are on their site. As soon as you click the link in your search results, you leave the private search engine and you are exposed to the site you clicked on.

StartPage, however, offers a proxy option that allows you to visit the sites in your search results while staying on the StartPage website. Every link you click through this proxy is requested by StartPage on your behalf and presented to you inside a frame. It works remarkably well and protects your privacy even after you’re done searching, of course only as long as you stay inside the proxy window. The ability to select which server you want to use (Europe or United States) is also a very welcome option to those concerned about privacy and the current laws that may be threatening this domestically.

Of course, you get all the features you want in a search engine. You can search for websites, images, videos and maps. Useful tools let you select a time frame in which to search, image controls and advanced search options to narrow down your search. Last but certainly not least, you get Google results while maintaining your privacy. Similar to the proxy, StartPage performs the search on your behalf with Google and feeds the results back to you. Google will never know it was you who performed the search. Google results combined with StartPage privacy is win-win! (Unless of course you prefer Bing results, but you can't appease everyone.)

Give StartPage a try by visiting https://www.startpage.com.

If you visit startpage.com from a Mac, buttons on the front page will easily let you set it as your preferred search provider in Safari, Firefox and other browsers.

StartPage Add to Safari or Set as Home buttons

On iOS, it is unfortunately not that easy. You'll need to either download the StartPage app for iPhone or iPad, set a bookmark as a web app, make StartPage your homepage, or simply type in the URL every time you want to use the service. You can find more documentation about its mobile apps (for both iOS and Android) here.

Which privacy-focused search engine is your favorite? Is this the first time you've heard of StartPage, and does it strike you as worth a try? Have something else to say about this story? Drop us a comment below!

About Jay Vrijenhoek

Jay Vrijenhoek is an IT consultant with a passion for Mac security research. He conducts independent malware protection tests, and also writes about privacy and security related matters on his blog Security Spread. Follow him on Twitter at @SecuritySpread. View all posts by Jay Vrijenhoek →
  • Rick

    I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for a number of years now. Does Start Page offer advantages over DuckDuckGo?

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