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Private Search Engine StartPage Releases New Features

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

March 29, 2017

When it comes to searching the web, people seem to think that Google is the holy grail of search engines. Admittedly, Google has the cleverest and most efficient web bots, which is why it is so good at deciding what content should be higher up on a page. Those Google-bots are known as web crawlers (or sometimes “a spider”).

Google uses a mass of computing power to make those web crawling bots analyze and rank billions of webpages. It succeeds in its job by using highly complicated algorithmic processes: an incredibly technical process that Google does extremely well.

Sadly, despite having that excellent infrastructure, what Google decides to do with those superb results is far from ideal. You see, Google tracks what people search for, and then serves them personalized results that it thinks they want to see. This “filter bubble” tailors, personalizes, and even censors results in a way that Google thinks is beneficial.

Often times, however, what that filter bubble really does is to undo all the good work that Google’s web crawling bots did in the first place. For people who don’t want a massaged version of the true unadulterated results, there is an answer: alternative search engines like StartPage.

Better Unfiltered Results

StartPage is a search engine based in the Netherlands, which means it is well out of reach of the US’ warrants and gag orders. This means that it can be trusted when it says that it will respect user privacy. In fact, StartPage is so well respected that it is even recommended by Edward Snowden.

So, what does the search engine do differently? The process is pretty simple, StartPage simply harnesses the searching power of Google’s bots and uses them for good. Think of it as the Robin Hood of search engines and you get the idea.

It isn’t the only search engine that does this, either. DuckDuckGo, for example, also leverages the tech giant’s web bots to deliver unfiltered results in privacy. Unfortunately, however, DuckDuckGo is based in the US, which as PrivacyTools.io has previously pointed out means that it could one day be forced to let its users down (think the recent riseup.net case).

With that in mind, StartPage already has somewthing of an advantage over its competitors. Now, however, StartPage has widened that gap even further by adding a couple of new pro features to its search. The novel search components are an enhanced image search and an Instant Answers feature. Both add to the search engine’s already broad appeal.

Better Image Searching

The new image search enhancements allow users to specify a number of criteria in order to narrow down their search results. The outcome is results that are much closer to what the user was looking for. StarPage users now get the option to filter results by predominant color, file type, and size. “Looking for a medium size png picture of an orange cat? Now you’re covered” says StartPage on its blog about the new features.

So, how does it work in practice? I had a go, and the ability to specify the quality of the picture is a massive boon. On occasions when a larger file size (and a better resolution) is needed, the search engine comes up trumps.

For people who are in need of a picture of a particular color (for example, one in keeping with a particular color scheme they are working on for a website or other project), the color filter is also fantastic. To test it, I searched for “yellow wall” but specified the color green in the filter’s color palette. The results? I was pleased to find that despite the confusing search terms, StartPage did predominantly give me green walls, pretty impressive really.

Instant Answers

The new Instant Answers feature is also really useful, allowing people to get the answers to questions without having to click through to the website itself. This is how StartPage describes the feature:

“Definitions and quick facts about thousands of topics are displayed on screen so users don’t even have to click into a website. Instant Answers also displays quick weather reports and flight information.”

All in all, I was really impressed with the new features. Personally, I already use StartPage because I strongly value privacy (and I know that my fellow VPN reviewer here at BestVPN.com, Doug Crawford, uses it also). With cases like this one in the US, where a court recently decided that searching for a name made people a suspect, using a private alternative to Google (that still has all the power of Google) is a fantastic idea. Why not give it a try?

Opinions are the writer’s own

Image credit: BoxerX/Shutterstock.com

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