Level two privacy would be to use a private search engine rather than the ubiquitous Google. These include DuckDuckGo, Ecosia and Startpage. They all promise to evade the myriad third-party trackers that are spying on you behind the scenes.
"There's a lack of awareness of just how much data are being collected," says Daniel Davis, communications manager for DuckDuckGo. "People kind of expect that when you use a search engine like Google that your search terms are going to be recorded somewhere and they're going to be tracked. What people don't realize is the extent of the other data that's linked to those search queries and the third parties that it's shared with."
DuckDuckGo does not block ads from showing up in the browser. But instead of collecting lots of data like Google to serve up "behavioral advertising," DuckDuckGo uses "contextual advertising." That means that it only serves up ads with keywords that are directly related to your search terms.
It's true that search terms include a lot of private information: questions about personal health issues, financial information like your bank name or mortgage lender, loads of geographic data, and even your romantic preferences.
But there's a lot of other data that can be tied to those search queries. If you use Gmail, then Google can collect all sorts of information about your online purchases and upcoming travel plans and connect them with your search terms. And if you also use the Google Chrome browser, think of the dizzying amounts of data that can be gleaned from your browser history. Not to mention if you also use Google Maps and other Google products.
These private search engines work in ways similar to each other. For instance, you can install the DuckDuckGo browser extension on any major browser simply by going to the DuckDuckGo website. On their homepage will be a large icon inviting you to "Add DuckDuckGo" to Firefox or Chrome or whatever browser you happened to be on. (DuckDuckGo also has mobile browsers for Android and iOS).
Installing the extension makes DuckDuckGo your default search engine. So, when you type search terms into the address bar, no data are collected about your search and nothing is shared with the sites you click on in the DuckDuckGo search results. DuckDuckGo uses an algorithm that includes Yahoo and Bing results as well as 400 other sources to compile its search results. (Startpage uses Google for its search results but submits the queries anonymously.)
The DuckDuckGo browser extension automatically defaults to the encrypted version of any website. If you've noticed, most websites use the prefix "https" instead of "http" at the beginning of their web address. That extra "s" means that your connection to the website is encrypted, so that no other party can eavesdrop on data sent between your computer and the website. You'll also see a small padlock icon next to web addresses that are encrypted.
Oddly, even websites that have an "https" version don't always make that encrypted connection available as default. The DuckDuckGo browser extension enforces the encrypted version every time.
Cookies have gotten a bad rap, but Davis notes that not all cookies are bad. For example, you want your social networks and email service to leave cookies on your browser, so you don't have to log in from scratch every time. DuckDuckGo and other privacy browsers generally leave those first-party cookies alone, though they will block third party trackers as a default.
However, you can change your preferences to block all cookies and scrub your browser cache after each session.