As you might have realised, I value my privacy, and I’m a strong proponent of the free and source movement. So for a long time now, I have been trying to find a search engine that fit these criteria. I believe that I have finally settled upon one that is perfect for me.

Let’s go through some of the options. First we have DuckDuckGo, which you have most likely heard of, even if privacy-respecting search engines aren’t your thing. This is the one I first switched to when I began my transition to privacy-respecting services.

DuckDuckGo is considered by most to respect your privacy, as they claim to. According to their privacy policy, they don’t log any personally-identifying information. And the bangs feature they provide is definitely very useful.

But this doesn’t mean DuckDuckGo is free of issues. They still log your searches, and much like most companies operating internet services, are based in the United States, where privacy laws that would require give them a legal reason not to collect your data, don’t exist at the same level as those of Europe. They also use Bing’s results, which are less than accurate sometimes, or too accurate at other times.

What if you want to use Google’s results? Well for that there’s Startpage. They’re a search engine based in the Netherlands, so they have to comply with strict privacy laws. And they have a feature that lets you anonymously view a website through the search engine.

That’s all well and good, but Startpage also doesn’t let you off without logging some information. They also don’t log your IP address, but they do collect details such as your operating system, type of browser, and language. And because they’re based on Google Search, they help Google achieve a monopoly over search results.

Finally we have also Qwant, which is based in France. They claim to have their own index, which if true, is an extensive one. But for some strange reason the search engine is only available in selected countries, and you have to set a region. They also collect your IP address, so this is not the best option.

So which out of these is the best option for you? Well that depends on what you value most:

You might have noticed something with the search engines I have so far gone over: none of them are open source. Of course this might not matter to you, but to me, it’s important that I be able to verify that a service I’m using is actually doing what they say they’re doing.

So what can you do if you want an open source search engine? Well, unfortunately not much. There is no open source search engine that has its own index. However, there is one solution: SearXNG.

SearXNG is what you call a metasearch engine, which means that it gets its results from other search engines instead of its own index. Now what this means in practice is that you can configure SearXNG to fetch results from DuckDuckGo, Startpage, Qwant, or even Google and Bing all at the same time. It also supports bangs through DuckDuckGo, which is really nice.

But how do you use it? You could self-host it, since it is open source after all. But this solution is not recommended, because as the person hosting a SearXNG instance, your device will be connecting to these search engines, which means your IP address will be associated with those searches, if the engine logs it.

You can self-host, but then you should open your search engine to the public, so that your searches are not the only ones being made, keeping you anonymous. You can also use an instance that someone else is hosting, which is the best and easiest way of using SearXNG. You can find these here. Try to use an up-to-date instance that is near you.

Once you’re on the instance, you can get to configuring. In the general settings you can change your language, autocomplete source, or turn safesearch on or off. You can also change the theme and turn on tracker removal from URLs in the user interface and privacy settings.

But the real fun comes in the form of the engines settings, where you can pick where your search results come from. This does depend on the category, but for instance, you can choose to receive your results from DuckDuckGo, Startpage, and Qwant in the general section. There are also options for more general information, such as DuckDuckGo’s currency conversions and definitions service, or results from the many Wikimedia projects.

Once you venture into other categories your options get more limited, but you can still use DuckDuckGo for images and Qwant for images, videos, and news. If you don’t think one source is sufficient though, you can always add Google or Bing in one of those categories. Your search query will be sent to them, but they won’t be able to trace it back to you, and your device won’t directly connect to them.

More specialised categories also exist, such as maps, which contains results from OpenStreetMap, an open source mapping service, as well as music, it, science, files, and social media, which contain many different sources of musical, it-related, scientific, file-related, and social media-related information.

Finally, there’s an other section with results that you can fetch using a SearXNG modifier, which is !. So you could fetch a definition from Wiktionary using !wt for example. If you want to access DuckDuckGo’s bangs you can do so with a double !. So !!wt would take you to Wiktionary’s website.

If you have a configuration you like, you can go to the cookies page and scroll down to the the “URL to restore your preferences in another browser” option, where you’ll find a URL that you can use to copy your preferences to another device. You just visit it and your settings are saved on there.

You might be asking what the point of an open source search engine is when it fetches its results from other, non-free search engines. Well, it’s important to know what code is running on your device, and whether you’re using or hosting SearXNG, you know exactly what is happening.

You can also continue to use privacy-respecting search engines as the source of your results, like I do, but simply do that through SearXNG. This way, you’ll still feel secure knowing your searches aren’t going to Google or Bing, but you’ll also be using open source software on your device.

If you choose to use SearXNG, please donate to the developers or contribute code to support the project. Maintaining an open source search engine is hard work, and they’re counting on your support!