There seems to be more and more reason to question any company that handles your data online – especially ‘Big Tech’, the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon. When it comes to search engines, plenty of alternative providers have taken aim at Google’s data practices, but no one has managed to take a bite out of their dominance in the search field. Now, Startpage is taking a different tack – partnering with Google, but protecting your data.
“You can’t beat Google when it comes to online search,” Robert Beens, Startpage CEO, told Trusted Reviews. “So, we’re paying them to use their brilliant search results while we remove all trackers and logs. The result? The world’s best and most private search engine. Now you can search without ads following you around, recommending products you’ve already bought. And no more data mining by companies with dubious intentions. We want you to search like nobody’s watching.”
Data privacy is particularly topical at present, not just because of building mis-trust around big tech, but also because of the coming US election. Beens was keen to remind US search users that election candidates are “buying data about them” not just from social media, but from search engines.
Right now, we’re living through an important moment for data privacy, but Beens claims that Startpage were into privacy “long before it was cool”. The CEO explained the origins of the company, saying: “The precursor to Startpage was Ixquick, which was founded in 1998 as a metasearch engine. When doing a legal audit in 2005 to get an idea about liability, we found out how much personal data we stored. This was the early days of privacy, well before it was top of mind for every consumer.
“We saw that the details in someone’s searches can be extremely telling and intrusive. Understanding and realising the terrible privacy implications of being able to tie all of someone’s searches together, we decided to make a 180-degree turn. That’s why in 2006 we started Startpage, the world’s first private search engine. At Startpage we feel the right to privacy is a very important civil right, worth defending.”
Who even thought about data privacy in 2006? Robert Beens, apparently – and for Startpage users, that obsession is probably comforting.
The CEO thinks that now, in 2020, internet users are finally becoming more aware of data-related issues online. But there’s still a long way to go.
“In the early years of the internet, general awareness around data usage and privacy was very low,” said Beens. “People welcomed new and free technologies like it was a Brave New World. Over the past five to ten years, awareness of the dangers of sharing information on the internet has skyrocketed as data breaches and leaks have garnered increased media attention and put privacy front and centre.
“A large majority of users nowadays know their non-private search engine behaviour is being stored and used to profile them for commercial reasons, but many aren’t aware of the danger this may put them in online. We still have a way to go around educating consumers on what dangers this liberal data sharing can put them in.”
Related: What is Info.com?
So, what does Startpage do to protect your data? Firstly, because its HQ is in the Netherlands, users are protected by Dutch and EU privacy laws, which are some of the most stringent data laws going. These regulations include much talked about GDPR.
Secondly, the search engine was also independently audited and certified by EuroPriSe, who are backed by several European privacy organisations.
Finally, and most notably, the simplest explanation for why Startpage doesn’t share your data is that it never has it in the first place.
As Beens explained: “Data that gets stored may be out there forever. Digital memories never fade. That’s why it’s so important that Startpage never stores any personal data to begin with.
“Startpage doesn’t store or share any personal data, we don’t profile you and we don’t track you. We don’t collect or share your personal information – ever. There’s literally no data about you on our servers. None. We can’t profile you, and we can’t be forced to hand over your data to authorities, simply because we don’t have any data to hand over.”
On the face of it, Google’s reliable search engine – without the data skulduggery – is pretty appealing.
Beens added: “Startpage chooses to partner with Google for its best-in-class search technology and runs each search through our proprietary anonymizing process. We are unique in that we can offer our users Google quality search results in private. Other privacy search engines are dependent on Yahoo or Bing.”