DuckDuckGo or Startpage?

21. July 2013 Security 45

startpage_logo_06.gifNOTE: October 24, 2016 – An updated version of this content is available here.
I have always used Startpage.com and Ixquick.com in the past but slowly switched to DuckDuckGo over the past few months. Not because I think they offer better security or privacy but because of the easy browser integration and fresh look. I still go to Startpage when the DuckDuckGo results are not good enough for me, I guess I got sucked into the hype as DDG gets far more media coverage than Startpage or Ixquick. So, after doing some side by side comparing I am back to using startpage.com for all my searches, i’ll explain why.

Startpage.com and Ixquick.com are run by the same company, they are both private search engines and both offer the same level of protection. Ixquick.com uses up to 10 different underlying search engines to get your search results from, Startpage.com uses just Google results. Which one you prefer better can only be determined after using each for a little while. Both sites handle the searches for you and strip away any personally identifiable information so even if a result comes from Google, Google will never know it was you who did the search. Because both sites offer identical security and privacy I will just use startpage.com throughout this article but everything said here goes for Ixquick.com as well.

While Ixquick has been around for a while, they have only offered privacy and encryption since 2009. This is also the year that startpage.com became available to offer people an easier to spell and easier to remember name. Startpage uses the following methods to ensure your searches are private and secure:

Logs
Your IP, search queries, what site you came from and what site you click on in the results, none of this is logged.

Encryption
SSL (https) is enabled by default and has recently been beefed up to offer Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) and more security by upgrading to Transport Layer Security (TLS) v1.1 and 1.2. While SSL is a good way to protect sensitive online traffic, it can be compromised. If someone were to ever obtain the private key for the website, they can use it to decrypt all encrypted data that has been stored in the past. PFS uses a different system, each data transfer has it’s own key. So if the private key were to ever be compromised, there is no way to decrypt previously stored encrypted data as every key is different. I mention stored data not because startpage stores it but because governments, government agencies and private contractors do. TLS just adds to the security and is basically the new and improved SSL or an SSL upgrade. In short, as soon as you load startpage.com you disappear into a private room with just two doors and no windows. Noone can see or hear what goes on in this room as there are no windows and the only people with the keys to the doors are you and startpage.com.

Proxy
When a search is performed you get a list of results. As soon as you click on one of these results, startpage drops you off at the selected website. As far as that website knows startpage.com just visited and the site does not know it is actually you. However this is where the startpage protection ends, you are now on a website without SSL, PFS or TLS security and as soon as you click a button or link you become visible to that site. But you don’t have to be. The search results all have an option next to it that reads “View by Ixquick Proxy”, a great feature.
Snap

When you click the proxy link a new window opens and Ixquick loads. Inside the Ixquick page is a frame that loads the site you requested (Java Script required). The website will never know you were there browsing around as it looks like Ixquick just paid a visit, not you. Or as startpage says:
– Startpage goes to the website you select, retrieves the page, and displays it for you.
– You are invisible to the website. They see only Startpage’s IP address, not yours.
– Since you never make direct contact with the website, they can’t see or store cookies on your browser.
– You can click on linked pages from the website and the Startpage proxy will display those for you too.
– While using the proxy, you are protected at all times by Startpage’s outstanding privacy policy. (No IP address recorded, no identifying cookies used, no search or browsing activity stored.)
– The Startpage Proxy Service offers complete privacy and anonymity.
and a minor downside (one that I have found not to be an issue at all);
– The downside is that pages load more slowly, since Startpage must retrieve the contents and redisplay them.

URL Generator
You can tweak startpage settings and set a preferred search language, whether you want search results opened in a new window or not etc. To remember these settings for your next visit a cookie has to be saved to your computer, cookies in general are considered bad for your privacy. So the URL generator was created. Once you have configured the settings the way you like them you can generate a URL and bookmark it. Next time you load this URL the startpage.com server links “https://startpage.com/do/mypage.pl?prf=dbd4549558699e86563476a51a4384970” to “preferred language = english, search results are opened in a new window” for example. No cookie needed and still completely anonymous.

Startpage.com is my search engine of choice. Apart from the above mentioned reasons I find having easy access to an ‘Images’ category very handy (DuckDuckGo announced the ability to incorporate images in the search results over a year ago and it’s still not there. I love the proxy and use it often (No such feature for DuckDuckGo that I am aware of).

However DuckDuckGo has easy browser integration, making DDG your default search engine is easy whereas startpage or ixquick need Glims. Glims is a 3rd party add-on that has been the cause of some stability issues in the past for me so I try to stay away from it*. In the end I choose privacy, protection and features over easy browser integration so I have startpage.com set as my homepage. I do also have DDG set as my default search engine in Safari so if I accidentally type my search in the address bar rather than opening a new tab to load startpage, my privacy is still protected (I find typing my search in the address bar an extremely difficult habit to shake).

Though my preference leans to Startpage this does not mean DuckDuckGo is a ‘bad’ search engine. They offer good encryption and privacy as well, using either one will keep your searches well hidden from snoopers. In my opinion Startpage just takes it a step further with the proxy. As always, don’t take my word or anyone else’s word for it. Test it for yourself, do your research, read the privacy policies and make your own decision.

About the beefed up security (https://startpage.com/eng/press/pr-pfs.html)
About the Proxy (https://startpage.com/proxy/eng/help.html)
About the URL Generator (https://startpage.com/eng/urlgenerator-details.html)

* I have written a follow-up article about using Glims to make Startpage your default browser in Safari, find it here.
* If you want to add Startpage to Firefox as your default browser go here.

Who is your preferred search engine? Let me know in the comments!


45 thoughts on “DuckDuckGo or Startpage?”

  • 1
    Zeus74 on July 21, 2013 Reply

    I used duckduckgo but I learned about startpage and their proxy a little while ago so I use their search now. Some websites load a little bit slower but like you said this is hardly ever a problem.

  • 2
    Anthony on July 21, 2013 Reply

    I used duckduckgo until I read last week they use Amazon for their server hosting. Since I don’t trust Amazon I started using Ixquick since then. Much better search results there too.

  • 3
    Aliki on July 21, 2013 Reply

    It’s hard to get away from the norm because the other search engines are so slow. But it’s def safer.

  • 4
    John on July 21, 2013 Reply

    Haven’t used either but looks very interesting so I’m gonna give it a try 🙂

  • 5
    ronnie on July 22, 2013 Reply

    Google can shut startpage down at any time.

    DuckDuckGo is partly proprietary (open source parts https://github.com/duckduckgo), hosted around the world (http://help.dukgo.com/customer/portal/articles/216392-architecture), and provides you with search results from these sources http://help.dukgo.com/customer/portal/articles/216399-sources.

    Startpage is proprietary, hosted in the USA/Netherlands, and provides you with anonymous Google search results (including images).

    • 6
      Jay on July 22, 2013 Reply

      Interesting. Though if Google were to ever deny Startpage their searches there is still Ixquick.com that uses many more engines. People would just have to get over the “hard to spell and remember” part to keep the same level of privacy and protection they are used to from Startpage.

    • 7
      Me on July 29, 2016 Reply

      That’s what ixquick.com is for. Same privacy protections, taps numerous search engines. Google can feck off and die and ixquick will just keep cruising right along without a hitch.

  • 8
    Todd on August 25, 2013 Reply

    Hi! I’ve been reading your blog for a long time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the great work!

  • 9
    Nora Grant on August 31, 2013 Reply

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    the exact same niche as yours and my visitors would really benefit
    from a lot of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this ok
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    • 10
      Jay on September 1, 2013 Reply

      Sure thing 🙂

  • 11
    Shannon on September 4, 2013 Reply

    Good article! We are linking to this particularly great content
    on our site. Keep up the great writing.

  • 12
    Rodney Stapleton on September 6, 2013 Reply

    This excellent website really has all the information I wanted
    concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  • 13
    bluubb on September 19, 2013 Reply

    I used DuckDG for a while, but prefer startpage these days.
    I find the anonymity “information” of Duckduckgo on http://donttrack.us/ insulting my intellectual abilities. More serious though, the fact that they officially state they will co-operate with governments when asked and pass on any information they may have on you. Problematic, since they can then be forced to log and/or decrypt specific data even if they don’t always do that.
    Ixquick/startpage do not. So for me it was good bye red and yellow.

    • 14
      Arawn on July 1, 2015 Reply

      I find the anonymity “information” of Duckduckgo on http://donttrack.us/ insulting my intellectual abilities. More serious though, the fact that they officially state they will co-operate with governments when asked and pass on any information they may have on you.

      Yes, they will cooperate to provide information they have…which they happen to not have because they don’t store any. Go ahead, think about that for a few minutes. If you can’t figure it out *I* am insulting your intellectual abilities right now.

  • 15
    Nothuman on October 22, 2013 Reply

    I use public wifi for about 80% of my networking (free where I live) and I was using a v.p.n until New York state pinged my i.p and suspendended my unemployment benefits for months because they claimed that I was claiming benefits from out side the country. It took months to prove otherwise with local purchase receipts and a.t.m. transaction records. I wish that I had known of S.P or that New York spies on it’s unemployed. It took a month just to find out the reason for the suspension.

  • 16
    Dama81 on December 20, 2013 Reply

    Great article, I’m also a big fan of Startpage. I recently also started using their Ipad App, which is great since you can’t use Startpage as a default SE in iOS. Keep up the good work!

  • 17
    mhikl on March 25, 2014 Reply

    I have tried both but prefer S/P. It will soon? have paid email and that will be an added plus.
    Something cranky in me likes the idea of living off Google Search’s back which is sort of what S/P does.
    However, I do occasionally like to visit and use DDG as I want all to survive to make Google’s life a little less pleasant. Dang, there’s the crank raising its head again.

  • 18
    Cristina on May 6, 2014 Reply

    It’s an remarkable paragraph in favor off
    all the online users; they will take benefit from it I am sure.

  • 19
    Steve Phillips / @elimisteve on May 22, 2014 Reply

    “They [DuckDuckGo] offer good encryption and privacy as well, using either one will keep your searches well hidden from snoopers. In my opinion Startpage just takes it a step further with the proxy.”

    Are you sure StartPage is better on privacy? If you _really_ want to take things a step further, use DuckDuckGo’s Tor Hidden Service! More info @ http://www.gabrielweinberg.com/blog/2010/08/duckduckgo-now-operates-a-tor-exit-enclave.html

    • 20
      Albert on June 27, 2014 Reply

      Or, why not use Tor Browser bundle? It includes startpage as default search engine.

      • 21
        ceh123 on October 28, 2015 Reply

        I like the ‘Disconnect’ feature of the Tor StartPage implementation. It offers an amnesiac function by default such that subsequent browser ‘back button’ clicks do not take one back to the primary search. Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

  • 22
    Mariel on September 9, 2014 Reply

    Great insight. Really enjoyed reading this blog. Keep up the good work and to everyone keep on learning!

  • 23
    Sarah on October 5, 2014 Reply

    Can anyone explain to me how these search sites make their money?

  • 24
    someone on November 13, 2014 Reply

    Startpage.com and ixquick.com have disappeared. Anyone know what’s going on?

    • 25
      Jay on November 13, 2014 Reply

      Both sites work here just fine.

  • 26
    chasster on December 23, 2014 Reply

    Switched to ixquick when they first were certified and later to startpage (sibling). Benefits of SE analytics are great and Very few paid URL references on any search page.
    Tried DDG and compared to items blocked by Ghostery. In general, Ghostery blocks more items than DDG or Aviator Browser (chrome variant).
    Can’t set Aviator to use startpage as default – disabled within Aviator (submitted trouble ticket).
    COMFORT level is with StartPage.
    cs

  • 27
    Meh on April 11, 2015 Reply

    Its the illusion of freewill. DuckDuckGo and StartPage offer a release as far as privacy concerns go. However at the end of the day we are still using the internet, we are still getting all our information through a pipeline wholly owned and operated by the department of defense. Their contractors share all their information with third parties including the NSA. Which in the long run makes the whole “you are safe using a different search engine” argument pretty useless. You can put up proxies, you can scramble data over the net, you can even stop webpages from following you. However this only applies to webpages and engines, how does it explain the electronic data being passed around through the pipeline? It doesn’t thus it is an illusion of free will. The only safest sure bet is unplugging your modem short of complete insanity.

    • 28
      Marcus Poppins on May 23, 2017 Reply

      It’s so comforting to know there’s such a thing as unplugging modems, especially if you are in the middle of a hack.

  • 29
    ceh123 on October 28, 2015 Reply

    A good little browser for IOS is ‘The Onion Browser’ — available from Apple’s App Store.

    For a good intro to the limits of data security across the public Internet, I suggest a quick read of
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_cryptography

  • 30
    DuckIsNotPrivate on November 12, 2015 Reply

    Duckduckgo will show redirect URL’s in the search results, each time you click on a results you’ll be first directed to their tracking page which logs your selection, then you’ll be redirected to the actual third party website. I don’t call that private at all!

  • 31
    Policed State on January 23, 2016 Reply

    One problem with any wepage is called “man on the side” attack. So, the way it works is that the government sets up it’s own site on a backbone provider, and then intercepts requests for a specific website. They have done this with Google already.

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20131004/10522324753/how-nsa-pulls-off-man-in-the-middle-attacks-with-help-telcos.shtml

    So, there is no such thing as privacy in our world anymore. We live in a virtual policed state.

  • 32
    unkown on August 25, 2016 Reply

    i’ve been using startpage for a long time now, however i’ve recently read that startpage doesn’t consider your location as “personally identifying” information and so it shares this info with google….can anyone confirm if this is true? because that’s a deal breaker for me.
    Im not overly convinced of DDG either. Are there any others out there? also What do you make of disconnect.me?

  • 33
    StartPage on October 4, 2016 Reply

    StartPage passes your country code plus your search term on to Google, with no additional (personally identifying) information, e.g. “US” + search term. You can find more information in this article: https://support.startpage.com/index.php?/Knowledgebase/Article/View/768/0/how-do-you-know-my-language-or-location-if-you-dont-store-information-about-me

  • 34
    neyyar on January 28, 2017 Reply

    I tried DDG some years ago long before the time l found out about Start page & Ixquick. I basically have given up on DDG because it was too US oriented. Even when I typed in the name of my European city it still gave me US pertinent results. Even worse, when writing in another language other than US English, seemed to send to the Roaring Forties.
    So now I exclusively us Startpage, some times Ixquick and Startmail which is a treat. Despite having slender means I prefer upgrading to the paid (4€/month) version. This is not much for the services Start mail provides including not stealing your private information plus the possibility of encrypted email.

  • 35
    Nervisio on February 25, 2017 Reply

    DudkDuckGo via custom homepage like http://myhomepage.pro

  • 36
    cooloocock on March 21, 2017 Reply

    Just recently Startpage has begun opening all clicks in a new tab. This is on Firefox latest version. I can’t turn this off – it’s annoying. I’m switching to something else for a while until they figure it out.

    • 37
      Jay on March 29, 2017 Reply

      I had noticed this as well. You can disable this in the Startpage settings though. Settings > Results Appearance > Open search results in a new window (disable).

  • 38
    Jack on April 2, 2017 Reply

    great article, I have one issue with startpage settings, when I use it in firefox as one of my search engines it always uses the default options (e.g. english language for an interface etc), I have previously entered some customized settings and they work if I open it via entering startpage.com URL in a browser, but if I do it in a textbox (firefox search engine box) it still maintains the default settings,
    how to change that ?
    Thanks

  • 39
    John on June 1, 2017 Reply

    Duckduckgo has better search results. Try something simple like MOSFET on both search engines, the difference is significant……

    • 40
      Jay on June 1, 2017 Reply

      The results are pretty similar when I try.

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