How to change Safari’s default search engine in iOS 8 for greater privacy

If you’re one of the many millions of iPhone and iPad users who managed to successfully upgrade to iOS 8 overnight congratulations.

Word has it that the new version of Apple’s mobile operating system brings some much-needed new features (including an improved keyboard and better extension support), as well as a host of security fixes.

Of course, don’t be too surprised if Apple issues further minor updates to iOS 8 in the coming weeks – in the past major new versions of their operating system have been blighted by bugs, including flaws that have allowed unauthorised users to bypass the lock screen in order to make calls or access your address book without your permission.

But this article isn’t about the security issues for once, but more about privacy.

Because with iOS 8, Apple has sneaked in an important new option for its default Safari web browser. For the first time, you can choose to switch your browser’s default search engine from Google to something else.

The choices are Google, Bing, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo.

Now, at least three of those search engines are well known. And then there’s Bing.

Seriously, come on – stop making fun of Microsoft at the back. I’m sure some people love Bing.

No, the search engine option that I actually want to draw to your attention is DuckDuckGo.

DuckDuckGo is making a name for itself, because it doesn’t collect or share personal information about you or what you search for on the internet. It proclaims itself to be the “search engine that focuses on smarter answers, less clutter, and real privacy.”

Unlike Google, for instance, which knows more about you than your partner does.

Google search history

When you search on Google, you are helping to feed data to one of the world’s most successful ad networks.

And, lets not forget, Google has been fined millions of dollars for bypassing Safari settings to track users and show them adverts.

DuckDuckGo, on the other hand, says it does no tracking, and stores no personal information about searchers such as IP addresses or user agents.

If you want to change the browser used by Safari on iOS 8, here’s how you do it:

  • Open Settings.
  • Scroll down to Safari, click it.
  • The first option you should see is Search Engine, where you will be able to tell what your current search engine is, and change it if you wish.

Choose search engine for Safari on iOS 8

Simple.

Why might you NOT want to switch your search engine?

So, I’ve explained why you might want to change the web browser Safari uses on your smartphone. But here’s why you might think it’s not such a good idea.

First of all, familiarity. People like what they’re used to and are typically resistant of change (remember the furore when Apple introduced a flat minimalistic user interface in iOS 7.0?)

If you’re used to seeing your search results laid out in a particular way with, say, Google, you may be less happy with what DuckDuckGo serves up. DuckDuckGo may offer better anonymity, but it’s also less flashy.

But perhaps even more importantly than familiarity is the quality of the search results.

Google is a phenomenal search engine – it’s what has driven the entire company to be one of the most successful technology businesses in the world.

DuckDuckGo on the other hand, has far fewer resources. Yes, it does have a web crawler – but it’s not likely to ever be as powerful as Google’s. For that reason, DuckDuckGo is very reliant on external sources such as Wikipedia and WolframAlpha to generate its search responses.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many people choose to try DuckDuckGo because it feels like it’s the “right’ thing to do in our privacy-conscious age, but then give in simply because the results from a different search engine are handier.

But you shouldn’t make that decision before you’ve tried it out for yourself.

The good news is that if you end up deciding that you don’t like one particular search engine on your iPhone’s web browser, you can easily switch to an alternative. Lets hope that the search engines that set out to protect users’ privacy are properly supported, and continue to offer their services for many years to come.

Author Graham Cluley, We Live Security

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