How do private search engines make money?

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There is a growing number of private search engines providing alternatives to Google and Bing. While the new search engines keep your searches private they still have a business to run, if they aren’t non-profit initiatives. 

The private search engines and metasearch engines listed below are free to use. They do earn money when you use their services, but the good thing is that they will still respect your privacy when you search.  A private search engine like Findx, takes it further and protects your privacy when you leave the search engine too.

Private search engines are mainly using contextual ads and affiliate links to monetize

These private search engines are companies with owners or investors with the goal of a running a profitable business, except for Searx which is a non-profit initiative receiving donations to keep its service running.

Here is a list of the various search engine monetisation models:

  • Advertisements as the top results – a well known model, for example Google and Bing, where a number of the top results are advertisements. Advertisements are marked with more or less visible tags that they are actually advertisements and not necessarily related to your search results. On private search engines the ads are contextual, which are directly related to your search query alone.
  • Online shopping search – When you see a list of products above or at the side of the search results they are often from an affiliate partner’s product feed. The search engine will receive a few cents when you click a product and visit the online shop. The EU has fined Google for breaching antitrust rules when promoting shopping results from their own service  – learn more about the antitrust case here [VIDEO]
  • Hidden Affiliate links in results – When the search engine shows results, some of the results may be shown with additional characters attached to the URL which will register when you click the result. This is typically done for Ebay and Amazon links, and is a shopping partnership called an affiliate link.  Note: It can be hard to tell whether a result is an affiliate link or not, when they are mixed up with other results Note: on Duckduckgo you should notice that organic results are mixed or replaced with affiliate links for eg. eBay.
  • Donations – If a service is non-profit, you can support the service with a direct donation. Wikipedia is a well known example of this model.
  • Token donations – New technologies based on machine learning and block chain technology make it possible to contribute with tokens to online publishers and services. The Brave browser is an industry leader, allowing some of the private search engines to receive tokens when you use them.

Monetization on private search engines

Findx DuckDuckGo Searx Qwant StartPage
Advertisments Not currently Yes (Bing) No Yes (Bing) Yes (Google)
Online shopping search Yes (affilate network) Yes (Amazon) No Yes (affiliated networks) No shopping search
Hidden Affilate links in results No Yes (Ebay) No No No
Direct donations No No Yes No No
Token donations via browser In Brave In Brave No No No
Funding Privately held Privately held + VC investments Private initiatve Privately held + VC investments Privately held
Note: The data above is based on public information published by the included search engines, with additional information from independent reviews, including as published on the respective Wikipedia pages for the search engines . The data was last checked in February 2018.

Advertisements listed above the search results

A smal collection of examples from Findx, Duckduckgo, Qwant and Startpage, showing where the ads are placed.

Look for transparency and Privacy by Design 

When you decide to use an online service like a private search engine, you don’t necessarily take the time to look through the terms and conditions.

In addition to reading the terms and conditions, take a quick look at the company’s blog and online communication to find out about their standpoint in online privacy and if they value transparency.

In the book “Data Ethics – The New Competitive Advantage”  Findx is mentioned as a company with a high ethical standard as a Privacy-by-Design service, meaning privacy is the foundation of the service, and all possible configuration options and technologies used have been built to protect people’s privacy by default. 

From a technical perspective companies that offer access to the source code of their services (open-source) also show a commitment to provide transparency around their solutions and business.

Open-source search engines with privacy 

Findx is a true open-source search engine and some of the other listed search engines also have open-source offerings, like Searx that software-savvy users can run as their own decentralized service. If you want further details read the post comparison of  private search engines.

By Brian Schildt - Privacy advocate at Findx

Activate privacy is a private project.