Internet Tips: Search Engine Privacy with Search Encrypt
The general perception of search engines is that they are empty boxes for you to type in any question in the world without any later consequences or repercussions.
Unfortunately, this isn’t reality. Searching the internet reliably and privately requires a bit of know-how. Many search engines, large and small, keep logs of users’ search terms. Among these, many keep complete records of your search terms that are then linked to your IP address, your name and other identifiable information depending on what you choose to share with your search engine. Using the right search engine, like Search Encrypt, is an easy way to keep your information safe on the internet.
First, as a general rule, it’s smart to be aware that just because a there a text box with a search button next to it doesn’t mean your search will be safe or private. Searching irresponsibly, either on search engines that track you or without being critical of the site you search on, can lead to your personal information getting in the wrong hands. Use these simple ways to search the web and not worry about negative consequences.
How To Search Responsibly & Safely
- Use a reliable and trusted search engine. Your search engine could be collecting more information about you than you may know. We recommend using a private search engine like Search Encrypt or StartPage to protect your search terms from being linked to your identity.
- Be careful about what you type into your search engine. Using a search engine that doesn’t use encryption by default could let your search terms leak into the wrong hands. Avoid typing in your name and sensitive data like your social security number or credit card number.
- Use multiple search engines. You can limit the information a search engine collects about you by switching between search engines regularly.
- Use encrypted search. Most, but not all, search engines now use encryption on your search terms. This means that your ISP and other users on your network cannot see what you’re searching for.
- Consider not signing in. Signing in to your search engine or its connected
services (e.g. Gmail and Google) just lets your search engine build a more complete profile about you. While this can provide some convenience, limiting the data profiles websites have about you is generally a responsible and smart practice.
- Search safely on mobile devices. Just because you are using a mobile device, like an iPhone or Android, doesn’t mean you are more private than a desktop user. You should still use privacy services like VPNs or private search engines.
- Use VPNs or Proxies. VPNs and proxies work to move your internet connection to another location so that websites can’t detect where you’re located and use your IP address to track you.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi networks. Although it’s not always possible, it’s best to avoid public Wi-Fi networks if possible. The network itself could be monitored by an unknown party, or could expose you to other risks like injected malware or man-in-the-middle attacks.
- For even more privacy, use as many safety measures as possible. World Privacy Forum calls this the “kitchen sink approach to privacy”. By using multiple safety measures, you limit the reliance on any one protection method. You can also eliminate more threats that may have slipped by one privacy measure or another.
Use A Reputable Search Engine
“Reputable” in the context of search engines means the search engine is well-known, has good security practices and is transparent about all of its functions. If you aren’t sure about the search engine you’re using, these are some well-known or reputable search engines:
- Bing (Link | Wikipedia)
- DuckDuckGo (Link | Wikipedia)
- Google (Link | Wikipedia)
- Search Encrypt* (Link | Wikipedia)
- StartPage (Link | Wikipedia)
- Yahoo! (Link | Wikipedia)
There are tons of good search engines on the internet. If you are unsure about your search engine, use one of the search engines above to do a little research about the site you’re using. It’s always a good idea to verify that the tools you’re using are reliable and actually doing what they say they do.
Many, actually most, search engines use ads to monetize their services. Ads get a bad rap on the internet, because they often make browsing experiences less pleasant. For privacy, ads aren’t an issue unless they continue tracking you after you’ve left the website you first come across them.
Private search engines like DuckDuckGo and Search Encrypt place ads above or below the results for your search term. These ads are based only on the words you typed into the search bar. The search engines that track your searches, and other browsing on the internet, to serve you ads later present privacy issues. If you searched for a certain product on a big search engine, like Google or Bing, you may see an ad for that product on another website you visit.
Be Careful About What You Search For
When you search for anything on a search engine, your search term is sent to the search engine’s servers to retrieve results. You should consider that the search engine and any third parties with access to the search engine’s databases could view what you typed in. One example is typing in your name with your social security number, or any other sensitive data.
When you type your name and SSN into Google your search string looks like this:
Even with DuckDuckGo, which calls itself a “private” search engine, your search terms appear in your search string (or URL):
This may seem like a minor detail, but it could allow third parties to access your data. If you’re using a public Wi-Fi network, anyone on the network can see your search strings. That means if you’re using Google or DuckDuckGo, they can see what you’re searching for. This is a big vulnerability if you’re searching for sensitive topics or information. Another quick point is that if you’re using public networks to connect to the internet, you need to be even more cautious about what information you put on the internet.
Government organizations like the NSA may have an interest in your search terms and browsing behavior. Back in 2013, Edward Snowden released reports that explained the NSA’s widespread capture of internet browsing and communications. There have been many occasions when search engines have received requests for users’ information in relation to legal cases. Google is notorious for fighting these requests, but not all search engines have the power to stand up to the Department of Justice’s subpoenas.
Use Encrypted Search Engines
Using encrypted search is a simple and easy step to protect your search terms from leaking. If you aren’t using encrypted search engines, your internet service provider (ISP) can see what you’re searching for. Along with your ISP, if you’re on a public Wi-Fi network, anyone on the network can view your search terms in unencrypted, plaintext form.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) offers HTTPS Everywhere, which will automatically encrypt your communications on many major websites. HTTPS Everywhere is availabe as a browser extension for most major browsers.
Use a VPN or a Proxy
Virtual private networks (VPN) and proxies work by directing your internet connection through other locations or networks to make it appear as if you are located somewhere else than you actually are. These products let you use non-private services on the internet without as much concern for sharing your private data. VPNs offer more complete protection than a proxy alone. A proxy will secure only your web browser, while a VPN will secure all of your internet access. VPNs actually encrypt your connection while proxies just relocate it.
Choosing a reliable VPN is an important step in protecting your privacy. Because all of your internet communications pass through the virtual network, you need to make sure the VPN you use is trustworthy. If you end up using a faulty VPN, you are essentially doing nothing to protect your privacy and you’re sharing your internet behavior with an unnecessary third-party.
Conclusion: Privacy Is A Process
Achieving 100 percent certain privacy on the internet is nearly impossible. The best way to go about privacy is to use as many tools and services as possible within an achievable and sustainable limit for yourself. If using a VPN is something you find inconvenient, odds are you won’t continue using it. It’s better to adopt privacy measures a little bit at a time and see what works best for you.
If searching the web privately is your goal, start using Search Encrypt and let us know what you think!