We don't set cookies, and we don't log your searches or clicks. If we are hacked or subpoenaed, the party seeking the information won't find anything of interest.
To sustain Safesearch, we partner with some traditional search engines in the ads area. To achieve their required level of integration, we pass them the IP address of your network and the useragent of your device's default browser. Moreover, as part of those deals we may be required to suspend inclusion of some of their web properties and adservices from Safesearch's registry of blocked domains. Over time, we hope to work with them to further relax and anonymize these processes.
Much of the content of this and subsequent sections are courtesy of online privacy advocate Gabe Weinberg. When you search at Safesearch, we don't know who you are and there is no way to tie your searches together. When you access Safesearch (or any web site), your web browser automatically sends information about your computer, e.g. your useragent and IP address.
Because this information could be used to link you to your searches, we do not log (store) it at all. This is a very unusual practice, but we feel it is an important step to protect your privacy.
It is unusual for a few reasons. First, most server software auto-stores this information, so you have to go out of your way not to store it. Second, most businesses want to keep as much information as possible because they don't know when it will be useful. Third, many search engines actively use this information, for example to show you more targeted advertising.
Another way that your searches are often tied together at other search engines are through browser cookies, which are pieces of information that sit on your computer and get sent to the search engine on each request. What search engines often do is store a unique identifier in your browser and then associate that identifier with your searches. At Safesearch, no cookies are used by default.
In response to efforts by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others, the major search engines have begun "anonymizing" their search log data after periods of time. Sure, this is better than not doing so, but you should note that this does not make your search history anonymous in the same way that it is at Safesearch.
What search engines generally do when they anonymize data is get rid of part of your IP address or turn it into something that doesn't look exactly like an IP address. And they do the same thing for uniquely identifying cookies.
However, in many cases, this so-called anonymous data can still tie your searches together, which can be used to reconstruct who you are and what you searched for. Additionally, search engines usually are silent on what they do with the useragent, which has been shown to also have enough information to often be personally identifiable, especially if isolated to a particular search session (day).
Other search engines save your search history. Usually your searches are saved along with the date and time of the search, some information about your computer (e.g. your IP address, useragent and often a unique identifier stored in a browser cookie), and if you are logged in, your account information (e.g. name and email address).
With only the timestamp and computer information, your searches can often be traced directly to you. With the additional account information, they are associated directly with you.
Also, note that with this information your searches can be tied together. This means someone can see everything you've been searching, not just one isolated search. You can usually find out a lot about a person from their search history.
It's sort of creepy that people at search engines can see all this info about you, but that is not the main concern. The main concern is when they either a) release it to the public or b) give it to law enforcement.
Why would they release it to the public? AOL famously released supposedly anonymous search terms for research purposes, except they didn't do a good job of making them completely anonymous, and they were ultimately sued over it. In fact, almost every attempt to anonymize data has similarly been later found out to be much less anonymous than initially thought.
The other way to release it to the public is by accident. Search engines could lose data, or get hacked, or accidentally expose data due to security holes or incompetence, all of which has happened with personal information on the Internet.
Why would search engines give your search history to law enforcement? Simply because law enforcement asked for it, usually as part of a legal investigation. If you read privacy policies and terms of service carefully you will notice that they say they can give your information on court order.
This makes sense because they may be legally obligated to do so. However, search engines are not legally obligated to collect personal information in the first place. They do it on their own volition.
The bottom line is if search engines have your information, it could get out, even if they have the best intentions. And this information (your search history) can be pretty personal.
For these reasons, Safesearch takes the approach to not collect any personal information. The decisions of whether and how to comply with law enforcement requests, whether and how to anonymize data, and how to best protect your information from hackers are out of our hands. Your search history is safe with us because it cannot be tied to you in any way.
Like anyone else, we will comply with court ordered legal requests. However, in our case, we don't expect any because there is nothing useful to give them since we don't collect any personal information.
If you care about search privacy, you might also want to check out these other search engines that take it seriously by default.
They differ from Safesearch. However, none store your personal information by default, which make them all pretty safe in our opinion.
Feel free to message us at anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. We never block email from the many temporary/throwaway email sites. Feel free to utilize one of those to anonymize your emails to us.