Ethical Search Engines

Originally written in mid 2020, and updated on 4th May 2021

We’ve been using Ecosia, a search engine that plants trees with the profits it makes for a while now, I wrote a post here about it what feels like a very long time ago, and we are still using it, sometimes I drop into Qwant instead because they are one of the few alternatives with their own search index, but Ecosia is still the default on all of our devices.

Nowadays though, it’s far from the only ethical search engine on the block and seem to be new options popping up all the time, and we decided to take a look at some of them.

Firstly though, you might wonder why you would want an alternative search engine at all when the one that is the default on just about every device and browser you touch also happens to be the world’s biggest information repository?

There are a lot of potential reasons not to love Google, massive privacy concerns, questionable hiring practices, or alleged tax avoidance for example, for most people it’s those privacy concerns. When it comes to the environment they actually do better. Since 2017 Google has (according to their own reporting) been using 100% renewable energy to power their offices and data centres, making them the largest corporate purchaser of renewable power in the world. That’s not bad at all but the others on this list go a bit further.

So what are your other more ethical options?

The ‘save the planet’ options

There are a few options if you want to not only have a search that’s powered by renewable energy but that donates money to sustainability causes at the same time…

Ecosia

I’m a big fan of Ecosia, it’s been my default search engine for a long time now. The interface is clean, the search results are good, and they are privacy focused. They are also a certified B Corporation who spend their profits on planting trees, and regularly share updates on how and where they are doing it.

Their search results are powered by Bing and Yahoo! but if you do need to consult the mighty Google then you can just add #g to the end of your search. What’s not to love?

Gexsi

Everything that is great about Ecosia is also great about Gexsi. Both are German B Corporations, both are great at privacy and transparent and accountable. Your search results will be a bit different because Gexsi pulls their results from both Bing and Google.

The biggest difference is in where they spend money. Instead of giving everything to tree planing projects, Gexsi donates to a different cause every two weeks, with each one contributing towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Ekoru

Named after the Maori symbol of creation, Ekoru is another search engine that doesn’t track your searches and gives money to environment related causes. In this case, they give 60% of all revenue to causes which ‘help save our oceans’.

Personally I’m not a fan of their site design, it all feels a bit clunky and I don’t need spinning whales. If you are more passionate about cleaning up the oceans than you are about planting trees though, then Ekoru might just be the search engine for you. Like Ecosia their search results are powered by Bing.

Okeano

I stumbled on Okeano while I was writing the first version of this article. They have a pretty logo, and very clean and easy to look at site design. They don’t track searches, and claim to use 80% of profits to help clean up plastic from the ocean.

I’d love to tell you more, but Information is really pretty thin on the ground on their website. It looks like their search results are provided by Google.

Elliot for Water

This is a new one to me, but is very similar in concept and search results to most of the others above. The main difference is where the ad revenue gets spent, not trees or oceans this time, but Elliot for Water spend it on projects that work to improve access to clean drinking water worldwide.

Search results are powered by Bing, they claim to be privacy friendly and not to track you at all, and an extra bonus is that the source code for the site is open source and available on Github.

SearchScene

I’ve been aware of SearchScene for a while (since I wrote the first version of this post) but have never really used it much. It’s similar to most of the others above, they make a selling point of having changing wallpaper like Bing which I find a bit distracting and don’t love at all to be honest. Bing also powers the search results, although they also mention adding something with their own algorithms.

SearchScene claims to donate 95% of revenue to charity, and the nice thing is that you get to ‘vote’ on which charities (currently form a list of six which are all well worth supporting) the revenue generated by your searches goes to.


The ‘all about the privacy’ options

I’ll be honest, I know much less about these highly privacy focused search engines. that’s because Ecosia and Gexsi meet everything that I demand in terms of privacy and do a lot of other good at the same time, so I haven’t spent a lot of time trying these out.

If privacy is the most important thing to you though, then we’d suggest taking a look at either Qwant, Startpage, or Privado.

Qwant

Of those three Qwant is by far my favourite, mostly because while Startpage serves you Google results and Privado is powered by Google, Qwant is that very rate beast, an alternative search engine that actually builds and uses it’s own search algorithms and index. It means that you might get slightly different results from all of the others listed here, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

And finally…

Then there is Searx, which is a whole other far more complex beast. Oh, and we shouldn’t forget about DuckDuckGo, the most famous of the privacy based search engines, but which does apparently have some questionable ethical practices of their own.

2 thoughts on “Ethical Search Engines”

  1. I think that none of them is ethical because they use results from eithet yahoo, bing or google.
    So using them is promoting these corporation and the way they use our informations. It’s a pity because these projects sounds very interesting but they should use results from Duckduckgo or qwant or similar.
    Good articles anyway.

    Reply
    • Maybe you are right, I think it depends on your definition of ethical really. For most people any of the search engines listed would be a step in the right direction simply because of their environmental impacts, and they also have much less user tracking and information retention than the likes of Google even if they use their search results.

      DuckDuckGo has a number of questionable ethics issues of it’s own which tend to get overlooked.

      Qwant is a great option. They maintain their own index and I haven’t seen any questions or issues about their privacy policies at all. The site doesn’t appear to be hosted green though according to the Green Web Foundation which is a shame.

      Reply

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