Why use a private instance?¶
Public instances are open to everyone who has access to its URL. Usually, these are operated by unknown parties (from the users’ point of view). Private instances can be used by a select group of people. It is for example a SearXNG of group of friends or a company which can be accessed through VPN. Also it can be single user one which runs on the user’s laptop.
To gain more insight on how these instances work let’s dive into how SearXNG protects its users.
How does SearXNG protect privacy?¶
SearXNG protects the privacy of its users in multiple ways regardless of the type of the instance (private, public). Removal of private data from search requests comes in three forms:
removal of private data from requests going to search services
not forwarding anything from a third party services through search services (e.g. advertisement)
removal of private data from requests going to the result pages
Removing private data means not sending cookies to external search engines and generating a random browser profile for every request. Thus, it does not matter if a public or private instance handles the request, because it is anonymized in both cases. IP addresses will be the IP of the instance. But SearXNG can be configured to use proxy or Tor. Result proxy is supported, too.
SearXNG does not serve ads or tracking content unlike most search services. So private data is not forwarded to third parties who might monetize it. Besides protecting users from search services, both referring page and search query are hidden from visited result pages.
What are the consequences of using public instances?¶
If someone uses a public instance, they have to trust the administrator of that instance. This means that the user of the public instance does not know whether their requests are logged, aggregated and sent or sold to a third party.
Also, public instances without proper protection are more vulnerable to abusing the search service, In this case the external service in exchange returns CAPTCHAs or bans the IP of the instance. Thus, search requests return less results.
I see. What about private instances?¶
If users run their own instances, everything is in their control: the source code, logging settings and private data. Unknown instance administrators do not have to be trusted.
Always use an instance which is operated by people you trust. The privacy features of SearXNG are available to users no matter what kind of instance they use.
If someone is on the go or just wants to try SearXNG for the first time public instances are the best choices. Additionally, public instance are making a world a better place, because those who cannot or do not want to run an instance, have access to a privacy respecting search service.