How To Keep Your Google Searches Private

Do you walk around constantly talking aloud to yourself? OK, what I actually meant was do you know that you are constantly walking around talking aloud to yourself.

Like some people, I usually try to avoid spewing my thoughts in verbal form without running them through a bit of a filter and only letting out what I really want to say.

It’s more polite, gets you in less trouble and makes you less interesting. I suppose the last point could be debate-able.

If you stop to think about it using a search engine can be like turning on your own personal Mindless Babble Mode. With that in mind remember that Google -the most popular search engine by far- knows a lot about you. It knows you are trying to learn how to tie a tie, figure out what to name your daughter and that you are trying to lose weight.

Sites you click through to via Google search results know a lot as well. For example: the search words that brought you to the site and often your general geographic location as well. That’s why you see location relevant ads. In my own traffic logs I can see that someone has found this site by searching for “witopia review” and another by looking for information on “mac osx filevault.”

So far we know that:

  • Google knows your thoughts
  • You’re search words/phrases are shared with other websites
  • Google keeps a history of your searches

If this is all of no consequence whatsoever to you that’s alright. Check out Google’s homepage today. It’s the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inaugural address. “…We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution…” and so on. That reminds me…I wanted to see Oliver Stone’s film, JFK.

But back to the matter at hand. If this does have some significance to you and you’d like a bit more privacy when it comes to search engines there are a couple little tricks to try.

Encrypted Search

If using Google the way millions every day is like broadcasting your thoughts far and wide, then using Google’s encrypted SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) search is like speaking quietly through a soundproof tube.

To get to this more secure version of the search engine you’ll have to type https://www.google.com into your web browser. You should see a lock icon somewhere around the address bar at the top and the “s” in “https” indicates you are using the secure version. To simplify it for the future just make yourself a bookmark once you navigate to the site for the first time.

When using Google w/SSL your search information is transferred discretely to Google and the results return in the same quiet manner. Anyone who has access to the network in between your system and Google can’t easily discover what information is being passed back and forth. Or to use our other example, they can’t hear the discussion that’s going on within that soundproof speaking tube.

In addition any websites you visit from the Google w/SSL search results will only see that you’ve arrived via Google’s service but the search words you used will remain unknown to them. Keep in mind that Google itself will still retain search history information so if that’s of concern to you using Google w/SSL won’t help you in that area.

Just to review:

  • Google w/SSL is the discrete way to search with Google
  • Your search words & search results are hidden from potential eavesdroppers
  • Search words/phrases are hidden from third party websites
  • Google still keeps a history of your searches

An Alternative Challenger: DuckDuckGo

Any giant attracts audacious challengers it seems. DuckDuckGo is a 2+ year old search engine I found out about recently that is meant to remedy some of the privacy complaints Google users have voiced.

DuckDuckGo Features:

  • Secure search option (DuckDuckGo w/SSL)
  • Zero-click info (basically a box that shows you the “best” result without clicking the link)
  • More relevant results (pages deemed too spam/ad filled are filtered out to reduce clutter)
  • More privacy (no saved search history)

From a privacy standpoint the biggest difference between using Google w/SSL and DuckDuckGo w/SSL is that DDG doesn’t keep logs on your past searches. Just like with Google if you want to use the secure version you’ll need to type -or bookmark- the link to the encrypted version: https://duckduckgo.com/.

How To Get Started:

Choose one of the sites and create a bookmark/favorite in your browser for the secure version of either Google or DuckDuckGo.  Just click the appropriate link below. Once it’s bookmarked use it whenever you search.

Google w/SSL

DuckDuckGo w/SSL