Anonymous, private internet searching

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Hey, have you heard that the US Federal government regularly spies on us?  And by “us” I don’t just mean US citizens, since the government seems to be doing this all over the world.  But this blog is not a rant against the politicians trampling the Constitution (after all, they’re probably watching as I type this!).  What I want to tell you about today is a way that you can search the internet anonymously. privacyDid you know that Google keeps a record of every search you do from their site?  If you wonder about something you were searching for a few weeks ago, just log in to your Google account and go here (  You can look at your searches for the past 30 days by clicking on a date on the calendar.

There are two major factors in play here: search leakage and search history.

Search leakage is what happens when you do a search, and the search term that you used is passed on to the site that you clicked on from the search results.

For example, when you do a search for the phrase “cancer symptoms” and click on a particular site, such as WebMD, that site knows the phrase you were searching.  That in itself would not be so bad…except for the fact that whenever you visit any website your computer reveals your IP address and other information that can be traced back to you individually.  So that means somewhere out there your name could be connected with the phrase “cancer symptoms”.

Search history relates to the Google example above, where they keep a record of the searches you have done (and almost all search engines keep track of that).

When you search on a word or phrase, your computer’s IP address is revealed and this means that the search being done could be related to you.  If you are logged in to your Google account at the time, then that search IS directly related to you.

Many search engines keep track of your search history in order to serve up more targeted advertising.  This has been the standard procedure for a long time.  If I search to find information on various running shoes, Google is going to start showing me ads from shoe manufacturers.

The big problem comes up when the search history is released.  This release could be accidental (such as when a search engine server gets hacked and the data is revealed to outside parties or the public in general).  Or the release could be a legal requirement, such as when law enforcement subpoenas the information as part of an investigation.

What if you are an aspiring writer, doing some research for your first novel – a murder mystery.  You might have some suspicious-looking searches in your history, such as:

  • untraceable murder weapons
  • assassination cases
  • how to hide a body
  • crime scene investigation procedures

These are probably not things you would want investigators to find if they happen to get your search history! There’s an easy way to search on the internet.  It’s a search engine called DuckDuckGo (

DuckDuckGo takes care of both of the privacy problems I mentioned above. When you do a search on DuckDuckGo, there is no search leakage.  They redirect your search to Google, Bing, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha and others, but they do not pass along the search terms that were used to create those results.  So you are actually getting more results than if you just searched on a single one of those, such as Google.  And the search engine won’t know what term you were searching on.

Regarding search history, it is true that the government or law enforcement agencies can require search engines to turn over the search history for any given user.  However, the search engines are not required to keep that search history in the first place.  Since DuckDuckGo does not retain any of your search history, they have nothing to turn over to the government or any other agency. This also means that if their servers are hacked into or otherwise compromised, your search history won’t be on display for the world to see – because there is no search history being stored. DuckDuckGo search DuckDuckGo was just started in 2008, and their search traffic tends to rise whenever the news has stories about online privacy invasion.  Not surprisingly, this past week was their best week ever in terms of website traffic.  It seems that we the people are becoming less and less tolerant of the government sticking its nose in every nook and cranny of our lives when it has no legitimate reason for doing so.

And of course, my disclaimer: we are learning new information about secret surveillance almost daily.  Is it possible that, even though this search engine doesn’t leak your search terms or store your search history, some government agency might already have the technology to track all of your searches anyway?  Yes, I would say that is possible.  In fact, I would even say it is quite probable.  So if you are going to do any searches that could be embarrassing if made public, make sure you do it on your friend’s computer instead of your own! listen to my podcast in iTunes

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June 17th, 2013

Have you used duckduckgo for a while? I used it exclusively for years until another computer tech said he found “dozens and dozens” of viruses and malware on my computer, all traced back to DDG, which was making it crash daily. Have you seen any of this? My gut tells me you’re right and he’s wrong.

Scott Johnson
June 17th, 2013

There are lots of ways for malware to get on your computer. DuckDuckGo doesn’t put it there. If you hadn’t been using DDG, he could have said the malware came from Google. The fact is, if you go searching on any search engine for something free (free screensaver, free wallpaper, free music, etc), most of the results that come up will be sites that want to infect your computer with malware. In fact, DDG pulls results from a variety of other search engines (including Google) anyway. The key is to not download or install something unless you know what it is and you intentionally want to install it (regardless of what search engine you use to find it). Thanks for the input!

Joan Peterson
June 17th, 2013

Interesting. There have been several times when I would have liked to check out a website, but didn’t want to come to anyone’s attention just because I’m curious. I’m not particularly interested in porn, but there are a lot of other things I have a fleeting interest in. I’m so honest I squeak but others don’t necessarily know that and could consider me a “person of interest” simply because I’m curious and have interest in so many things. Would this DDG actually allow me to push my curiosity button and not come to someone else’s attention? Not a big deal, but it could be fun.

Scott Johnson
June 17th, 2013

Yes, that is the idea – you can search what you want and not have to worry about who knows about it. Keeping in mind the disclaimer at the end of my post, of course.

June 24th, 2013

The ISP’s are now tracking everyones online usage. I have a good friend that works with CableOne (our local provider) and it is now a requirment that they all must do it. After reading the new user agreement that came up on my screen one day they do have full control.

July 1st, 2013

DDG may not put the viruses on your site but they do allow more harmful sites to show up. Google blocks a lot of websites from showing up do to their code and DDG does not provide this.

Scott Johnson
July 1st, 2013

Thanks Micky. It is true, whatever you click on could potentially be malicious. But I would never trust whatever filters Google is using to block malware sites from showing up in the search results – because there are LOTS of them that show up there. The easiest way to get infected is to go on Google searching for “free” anything. Thanks for the input!

July 1st, 2013

I agree you take your chances when you search for anything “free” but there are a lot of search customers can perform that pull up bad sites. You may go to DDG and search Dell Support and I can name several that look legit that come up in DDG and other smaller search engines that will not come up in Google.