When it comes to search engines, Google seems to get most of the headlines with an occasional nod to Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yandex, or Baidu. And while it’s true that there are far, far fewer search engines than there used to be, there are still more than are getting news coverage.
Do you remember Ixquick? A metasearch engine that was launched in 1998, it changed its name to StartPage in 2009. Ixquick had a focus on privacy as far back as 2006 and has made that feature its primary focus now, in response to many tech companies which… well… haven’t.
Startpage.com (new branding now, no camel case, but I hope they don’t mind me using Startpage instead of Startpage.com for the rest of the article) did a soft launch in mid-November of its new offerings after many weeks of gathering feedback on the new design. While there are some cosmetic changes (themes, some of the advanced searches getting more “front-and-center”) the old “StartPage Proxy” feature is now Anonymous View, and I think you’ll like it.
Startpage started its life as a metasearch engine but at this moment just uses Google. Its front page notes “You can’t beat Google when it comes to online search. So we’re paying them to use their brilliant search results in order to remove all trackers and logs.”
Startpage might be using Google’s search results but they look different. Way different. You’ve probably noticed that when you search Google you get results relevant to your locality. With Startpage you don’t get that. You also don’t get in-result pointers to Google Maps, YouTube, etc.
Google’s top five results for solar heated swimming pool included results from the state where I live as well as pointers to YouTube videos and an Amazon listing. Now check out Startpage.
The Startpage.com results aren’t oriented toward a location, with both DIY and business listings in the search results (as well as a Pinterest result I’m rather surprised by.)
In addition to the search results being different there’s also the search autocomplete suggestions, which are a lot different. For a start they’re not based on actual user queries (because why would a search engine focused on privacy do that?)
When you use Google, you get suggested ways to complete your search. For example, if you started typing “why do cats eat” Google might suggest searching for “why do cats eat grass,” or “why do cats eat plastic,” and so on.
Startpage uses general information, not user search queries, to build its search suggestions. (This is addressed on its support pages.) When I tested it I couldn’t even get any suggestions for “why do cats eat” and only one suggestion for “why do cats” (“why do cats purr”). Be prepared, when you use Startpage, to get limited suggestions or in the case of really esoteric searches, no suggestions at all.
Before you dive into Startpage, though, check the settings — particularly if you’re trying to filter content.
Get Your Startpage Settings Right
Startpage’s settings are at https://www.startpage.com/search/settings . There are a bunch of standard settings about how many results you get per page and your default search language, but I wanted to focus particularly on the privacy options. There are two sections for that: one is “Privacy and Safety” and the other is “Save your settings without a cookie.”
The first thing I should tell you is that the settings in the screenshot are the default settings. In other words, All these security/privacy measures are turned on by default. There are family filters for videos, using POST vs GET (Treehouse has a good breakdown on POST vs GET) which servers you should connect to, and filtering images and the Web. There’s also an option to check the pages you are visiting by proxy (more about that later) to see if the unproxied pages contain malware. (It surprises me, but does not quite discourage me, that Startpage uses Yandex to check an unproxied page for malware.)
Now, how does Startpage save its search settings? Via cookie, of course. But the settings page also offers the option of plain and obfuscated URLs for saving the settings if you don’t want a cookie. (I wasn’t sure how much information could be gleaned from these URLs, so just in case I indulged in a bit of obscurity by green pepper.)
Startpage Advanced Searching
Yes, Startpage uses search results from Google. No, you cannot just plug in Google search syntax and expect it to work. I tested this with the query intitle:fred inurl:ethel. It works fine in Google:
But what happens when you try to repeat that query on Startpage?
I copied and pasted my query from Google to Startpage and it autocorrected my inurl: to url: and got me no results. Wanting to be sure, I used Startpage’s advanced search to run the search again.
I love building up complex queries in Google, but a couple of test runs here told me I need to stick to Startpage’s advanced search, available at https://www.startpage.com/en/advanced-search.html .
Here you can search for keywords inside titles and URLs, include and exclude words, and search for links to specific domains. I especially like that you can integrate AND and OR queries so easily. Once you run the query, you can edit it from the search result page. Startpage doesn’t let you search for results on .jp domain names, but you can edit your search query on the results page and the search works fine.
You might have noticed that these search results don’t look too different from Google’s, except that link next to each result that reads Anonymous View. This is a very handy Startpage feature.
Have you ever gotten a search result that looked useful, but its useful/sketchy ratio was such that you weren’t sure about visiting it?
But then disappeared into a vast gray screen:
In this case I would take the URL ( https://www.miltonkeynesrollerderby.com/ ) and do a cache:https://www.miltonkeynesrollerderby.com/ search at Google. Generally, though, I found Startpage’s Anonymous View function to be easier to use and more functional.
In the time it took me to write this article I got impressed enough with Startpage that I’ve set it as my default search engine in my browser. (Julia Izabela wrote up a quick tutorial for doing this if you want to try it too.) I suspect I’ll have to go to Google when I’m doing a very complicated search, but for quick searches and extra privacy, Startpage.com looks like it’ll do just fine.