New Default Homepage and Search Engine

With the release of Privacy Browser 2.12, the default homepage and search engine has been switched to Searx.me. This only applies to new installs of Privacy Browser. Existing users who upgrade will keep whatever their current settings are until they manually change them.

The default Tor homepage and search engine has been changed to http://ulrn6sryqaifefld.onion/, which is a Searx instance operated by the same organization that runs Search.me.

There are several reasons this change was made. I will list them beginning with the most significant.

  1. DuckDuckGo has a tracker on the home page.
  2. DuckDuckGo tracks the ads you click on before redirecting you. You can see this in the screenshot below.
  3. DuckDuckGo’s .onion site doesn’t work with JavaScript disabled and they seem disinterested in fixing it.
  4. DuckDuckGo requires workarounds to function with both JavaScript disabled or enabled.

In looking for replacements I settled on Searx for the following reasons.

  1. Searx doesn’t load any trackers.
  2. Searx doesn’t track any of the links you click on.
  3. The entire system that runs Searx is open source software released under the AGPLv3+ license.

You can host a Searx instance yourself or use one of the many public instances. I chose to go with Searx.me for the default in Privacy Browser because it is the most commonly used instance and has a .onion site. Searx.me is managed by Adam Tauber, who is the principal developer of Searx. There is no way to independently verify that the code running on his server matches the code in the Searx repository, but if it does then the system truly does not track you. Even with that limitation, there is no other search engine I have found that comes as close to the ideals of Privacy Browser.

Note that the .onion site does not offer HTTPS. Proponents of Tor will tell you that they don’t need HTTPS because the encryption is handled by the Tor system. But given that every indication is that Tor has been compromised by the NSA, I would prefer not to relay on the encryption of the Tor protocol, but rather run HTTPS across Tor even for .onion sites.

A final though about default search engines and homepages in Privacy Browser. Most major browsers get kickbacks from search engines for making them their default.  Mozilla’s revenue totals hundreds of millions of dollars per years in such kickbacks. This alters their behavior, such that they select a search engine based on how much they will get paid, not on what is best for their users. They also don’t do some things that would improve the privacy of their users because they would make their search engines overlords unhappy. It is very important to me that Privacy Browser never has a financial relationship with any search engine. That way, I can change the default search engine at any time based on the best interests of my users.

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