If you’ve been a long-time Google user, you may have noticed recently that Google’s search results are not quite as relevant to what you actually searched for. You might even have noticed that they appear more commercially-minded than what you were actually looking for.
But why is that? Could it be that Google’s algorithms are somehow not doing what they are supposed to?
Perhaps. This YouTuber has suggested that Google subtly changes your search terms without you knowing and returns results that are more likely to generate revenue for itself, rather than the thing you actually searched for.
Surprisingly, this may not be too far from the actual truth: there’s an antitrust trial happening between the US Department of Justice and Google right now, in which Google has been accused of compromising search results to squeeze more money from advertisers and consumers alike, prioritising revenue growth over the user experience. During the trial various documents and emails have surfaced that support this, giving credence to the claim above.
So while that’s not the same as Google being guilty of said accusation, it does go a long way toward justifying the many articles that have surfaced in the past few years about Google’s searches getting worse and worse.
Google for alternatives
But Google’s legal woes are not your problem, and you still need to find things on the internet. So what do you do when your once-trusted search engine goes off the rails and stops giving you what you need from it? You do what millions of people have done: you change your search provider.
And because we have your back, here are four alternatives to Google Search that we can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone with privacy concerns, as they prioritise results accuracy over advertising, and privacy and anonymity over tracking. The end result? You find what you’re looking for and you don’t keep seeing ads on every site you visit for a thing you looked up once.
As a side note, given that Google is trying to attract advertisers by putting their products in front of you when you search, Google Search remains the go-to search engine if you’re actually looking for something to buy, and you want to get it at a decent price.
For everything else, though? There’s an alternative.
We enjoy recommending DuckDuckGo because of its silly name that’s always fun to say. That aside, it’s a pretty good search engine that doesn’t intervene between your search query and your results and actually gives you what you searched for. It also prioritises your privacy and does not track you in any way in your wanderings across the internet.
You can use duckduckgo.com directly, or you can set your browser’s search engine to it in Settings, meaning all searches done using your browser’s address bar will be conducted using the service.
It has a very stripped-down look and feel, and the results it returns don’t look very exciting (like Google’s do), but they are at least accurate and not based on what Google thinks you should be looking at. It also lets you customise how it looks and offers cloud synchronisation so that your DuckDuckGo settings (but not your search results) follow you around the internet.
Brave first exploded onto the internet scene in 2019 as an alternative to mainstream browsers with its focus on security and privacy. In 2021, Brave launched Brave Search, its very own search engine that promised to do much the same by offering searches that focus on user privacy without tracking or profiling its users.
To use it, you can either download the Brave browser which uses it by default, create a shortcut to search.brave.com in your preferred browser, or tell your browser to open it every time you open a new browser window.
What we really like about Brave Search is its commitment to the user. On Brave.com, they say things like:
“Private search that’s user-first: Google tracks everything you do, sells your data to advertisers, and leaves you vulnerable to hackers. Brave serves the user first. Not big tech. It’s your data, your choice.”
Now that’s something we can get behind.
We’re less enthused about Bing as it belongs to Microsoft, and thus still qualifies as being part of Big Tech. But it’s not Google, and that counts for something. While Bing’s market share is much smaller than Google’s (it only handles 1 in 10 internet searches, says Android Authority), it has more considered features that try to give the user a balanced search experience.
Bing’s image search is particularly good, with much more anecdotal evidence to support it being better than Google’s. It’s also a bit prettier thanks to a home page that offers up attractive background imagery. It still tracks you to some extent, but at least nobody is suing Microsoft for Bing searches that are subtly changed in the background.
Bing is not exactly privacy-focused and still serves up ads, but they’re not nearly as insidious as Google ads. If you’re not ready for a total switch-off of “tailored ads”, try using Bing for a while instead of Google.
This privacy-focused search engine is based in The Netherlands, and so has the added bonus of having to follow the EU’s very strict GDPR privacy laws. Another of Startpage.com’s claims to fame is that the site does not keep the IP addresses of its users, and nor does it keep logs or deploy tracking cookies of any kind to the PCs of the people who visit the site. And this isn’t an empty claim – a third-party audit confirmed it.
But arguably Startpage.com’s biggest appeal is that it provides some of the benefits of Google results, without any of the privacy issues. It claims to do this by submitting your search queries to Google anonymously, and then giving you the results privately.
This sounds good, but during research for this article, several sponsored ads appeared in our Startpage search results, which is less than ideal. Still, if you fancy the idea of still getting Google results with only some of the advertising guff, Startpage could be a useful option.
Fewer ads in your searches start here
Privacy is a big challenge in 2024, and individuals (not Big Tech) need to balance their need for privacy with their need to actually find stuff on the internet.
Sure, it can be fun to have ads served to you for things you’ve only talked about (or thought about, or dreamed about), but the privacy implications are – or at least should be – rather frightening. That a corporation like Google could be trying to maximise their profits at our expense should bother everyone.
For anyone looking to get out from under Google’s All-Seeing Advertising Eye, these search engine alternatives are a good starting point. On the other hand, if you’re looking for specific things to buy and you want to compare prices, Google is still great for that and will continue to be so.
But at least now you have alternatives for those times when buying things isn’t your end goal.