What a Search Engine Tracks About Me

It’s no secret that most browsers and major search engines on the Internet collect usage information. Now, the question has shifted from whether or not a search engine is tracking you to how much it’s tracking you. All users have a right to know what private information they may be putting at risk when they search; in this article, we’ve provided an analysis of four of the most popular search engines – Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and DuckDuckGo – to determine just what search engines track about you.

What does Google track?

The most popular search engine, at least in the United States, is Google. A recent 2022 statistics study found that Google captured around 92% of the general search engine market, as well as 95% of all mobile searches. Many use it as their default search engine. However, Google’s size and popularity means that Google collects more of users' personal information than its competitors.

One of the primary ways Google tracks users is through location services and GPS. Google’s search engine narrows down both your home location and your location throughout the day. It does this by using Google Maps and any addresses you may search for in Google’s search bar. It notes your current location and your location history. According to Google, they use this information to suggest search results that may be more relevant to users, create targeted Google ads, and improve user experience overall.

Google also traces any information entered into the search bar. You can't erase that data even if you delete your search history; Google keeps their own records of users’ searches. Because Google owns YouTube, Google also monitors users’ watch history and search history on YouTube. The saved information curates users’ YouTube home pages and provides data for search suggestions and results.

Be aware that Google is bigger than just a search engine, with all the subsidiary companies and associated services that they provide. Any information entered into a Google account is available for their records. Furthermore, if you use Gmail, Google Contacts, Google Maps, or Google Calendar, all of that information is also recorded by Google.

What does Bing track?

With 33% of searches in the United States, Microsoft Bing is the second-largest search engine. Bing and Google share a similar scope: both grew beyond a search engine, and with Bing considered one of the most popular Google alternatives. This means that Bing collects more information than users might realize.

Bing tracks users’ general location and saves users’ search history, which it keeps for 18 months unless manually deleted sooner by the user. Bing also collects a lot of logistical information as you use the search engine: your IP address, your general location, the time and date of your search, and what you search for. However, unlike Google, deleting your search history removes it from your Microsoft account, and copies made by Microsoft are kept only for a limited time.

Bing uses tracking pixels to monitor how many users visit a certain page. This is referred to as “tracking clicks” on a page, and Microsoft uses the information for advertisements and other branding purposes. When someone uses Bing’s search engine, they encounter the tracking pixels on search results. 

What does Yahoo! track?

Bing powers Yahoo!, which means that instead of being its own entity, Bing delivers Yahoo!'s search results. Technically, Yahoo! operates more as a web portal than a search engine. However, Yahoo! on its own has garnered 2.5% of the world's desktop searches according to the same statistical study.

Because the same source powers both of them, Yahoo! collects the same types of personal data that Bing does. This includes saving a search history, tracking clicks, and deploying cookies to monitor users’ online activity.

However, it’s also worth noting that Yahoo! dropped their 'Do Not Track' policy in favor of what they consider to be a more "personalized" experience. This means that Yahoo! tracks users’ general online activity even more than they previously did, claiming that it gives users a better online experience. While it certainly helps advertisers target advertisements directly to Yahoo! users, it means more tracking and less privacy on the Yahoo! search engine.

Search Engine With Privacy Sign

What does DuckDuckGo track?

DuckDuckGo is a private, protected, alternative search engine that focuses on keeping users’ information private. The only information that DuckDuckGo saves is what you search. However, even this data is only saved to your computer, not to the search engine or its parent company.

Furthermore, your public IP address is not recorded with DuckDuckGo, unlike with Yahoo!, Bing, or Google. You can search and get results for 'what is my public IP address' without worrying that the information is stored or shared, either. DuckDuckGo structures their search engine and results to avoid recording users’ IP addresses, as well as timestamps and locations for searches. If you want a private browsing experience, DuckDuckGo is a great option.

Do all search engines track you?

Though it seems like most search engines do nothing but collect information on users, there are still some that prioritize privacy. DuckDuckGo, mentioned above, exemplifies this idea well. Other private search engines, like the Brave search engine, also have web browsers that are equally as privacy-focused and protected. For users who still prefer mainstream search engines or browsers, Mozilla Firefox is a great browser choice as a privacy-based search engine with many privacy options that give users a secure browsing experience.

Each user can make their own choice as to how comfortable they are with the information that each search engine collects. Though search engines like Google may provide better options or faster speeds, those often come at a cost. If you do want to keep using these browsers, prioritize protecting your privacy and make sure to regularly delete your search and account history. Then, you will be in a much better position to keep yourself and your data safe.