Proximity Search on Google-Free Wednesday

The international version of Yandex, the Russian search engine, has a collection of advanced commands that include a proximity operator that is extremely useful for drilling down to what your really want. For example, a search statement might be, “opec & saudi” (in same sentence) or “opec && saudi” (in same page).

There is also an /n operator that enables you to specify that words or phrases must appear within a certain distance of each other. For example, a search statment might be “opec saudi /3

An interesting operator is the non-ranking “and”, which is entered as “<<“: the words after the operator do not affect the ranking of the page in the results.

The search operators are listed at

Google-Free Wednesday–Disconnect Search

Disconnect Search is a specialized VPN that lets you search privately using Google, Bing, and Yahoo search engines. They say they don’t log searches, IP addresses, or any other personal info.

Using Disconnect search, your ISP shouldn’t see your search terms as they don’t have access to your searches. Normally, when you click a result link, the site you go to may see your search terms, but Disconnect should prevent this. Search engines save your searches, which can be connected to your real name or IP address. Disconnect should anonymize your searches.

Google-Free Wednesday–Escaping Google

The Great Google Escape

Google’s products are fast, intuitive and reliable–but they are not free. You pay Google with your identity, behaviour, habit, and preference information. Google then collates and analyses this data and sells it to advertisers and gives it to government and intelligence services. The longer Google does this, the more valuable the data becomes. This raises some very real privacy and security concerns for people who use Google.

There are solutions to this privacy and security issue. The first obvious solution is to avoid putting all your digital eggs in one basket. Use a different email and calendar provider. Use Firefox not Chrome as a browser. Use providers in Europe to take advantage of European Union privacy laws.

Sign in to your Google account and Use Google Takeout to export your data to a downloadable ZIP file from all the Google products. Getting out of Gmail is easy–getting out of Calendar and Contacts not so much. Google sets file standards for their calendar and address-book to make migration awkward. However, migrating to in Germany seems to go ahead without any real difficulty. It even allows you to encrypt your emails and other files before storing them on the server. Best of all they do not scan your data and try to monetize it. However, it costs €1 per month.

If you use the free Google Drive, consider using the Omnicloud from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, which allows you to encrypt all data locally before uploading it to the cloud.

Install a tracker blocker such as Ghostery and Self-Destructing Cookies (SDC) in Firefox to guard against browser cookies and use a search engine like Duck Duck Go which does not record your search history.


Google-Free Wednesday–Metasearch

Metasearch for the Big Guys

Dogpile returns results from Google, Yahoo!, and Yandex. The Russian engine, Yandex, is the fourth largest search engine in the world and Yahoo! is really the Bing search engine database.

Dogpile is only good for short and simple search statements, however, it is a good for a quick look at what you are likely to get from the largest search engines.

Copernic Agent

Copernic has stopped selling its professional version metasearch tool and discontinued all support for both the professional and free personal versions of Copernic Agent. It only searches five of the 15 search engines it purports to search (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Dogpile, and Open Directory Project).

Copernic is Windows only.


iMetaseach is a possible replacement for Copernic. It is now in version 5.03, so it isn’t a new kid on the block. The paid version searches Google and purports to search 11 other search engines.

The program groups search results by concept; click a group that interest you and the search results will be revised. This is an effective method to refine search results and get the most relevant results. It’s very effective for ambiguous search terms.

Unfortunately, iMetasearch has a steep learning curve, but if you frequently conduct Investigative Internet Research it is worth the effort to learn how to use this advanced web search tool.

iMetasearch is Windows only.

Google Free Wednesday—DDG Site Search Command

The DuckDuckGo (DDG) search engine aggregates content to provide search results while offering significant privacy features. My favorite search shortcut in DDG is its version of the Google site: command. Place an exclamation point before the site you want to search–for example, “private investigator” !facebook. The exclamation point directs the search to a specific site. In this case, you will have to login to your Facebook account to see the results.

Google Free Wednesday — Yahoo! Alerts

The apparent demise of Google Alerts forced me to turn to Talkwalker and Mention for alerts. However, Yahoo! Alerts offer some utility for keeping up with the world. In the past Yahoo! Alerts was only good for news. It now extends into the full web as catalogued by the Bing database. If you don’t already know it, Microsoft swallowed Yahoo! search whole in 2009. Perhaps we should call it Microhoo.

You need a Yahoo! account for Yahoo! Alerts. The results cannot be pushed to an RSS feed, they only arrive via email, Yahoo Messenger, or mobile device, depending on what you have set-up in your Yahoo! account. Not all alerts allow for delivery using all three of the above delivery options.

To create an alert, select Y! Search from the drop-down list on the right side of the opening page or select Y!Search from the list on the initial screen. Next sign-in to your Yahoo! account. In the Search keyword field add the search terms as you would in the normal Yahoo! search box. In the next drop-down list select what you want searched, I normally select Web or News. Finally select the frequency of the search. The search preview will only show anything added to the database in the last 24 hours.

Google-Free Wednesday — Yahoo! Case Sensitive Search

Case Sensitive Search in Yahoo!

Case sensitive searches help when searching a person’s name and certain words such as the month of March, rather than a marching band, or a person from Poland is Polish, not silver polish. appeared in April 2013 and provides a case sensitive web search engine based upon the Yahoo! search engine database. However, this search is based on a paid service called BOSS that allows developers to create custom Yahoo! search engines for a fee. In this case, we do not know what pricing plan the developer is on, therefore, we do not know what portion of the Yahoo! index the thing searches.

Google-Free Wednesday — Alerts

During the recent apparent demise of Google Alerts, I turned to using Talkwalker and Mention.

I found Talkwalker to be better than the broken-down Google Alerts. Mention seemed interesting, but the Web interface was not confidence inspiring and the need to download an app always makes me suspicious of what security risks that would cause.

Now that Google Alerts is working better, I am finding that it is almost keeping up with Talkwalker and finding new material in each set of results.

With the reawakeing of Google Alerts, I am not going to abandon Talkwalker and Mention — I am just going to add them to toolkit.

Google-Free Wednesday — Similar Pages & Link Searches

Lately, Google has begun eliminating as much search functionality as they can.  One of their recent efforts is the revamped advanced search page.  If you don’t think so, then just try to find the advanced search page on your own, I dare you.  Did you find it?

Evidently Google thinks you aren’t smart enough to use such advanced stuff.  If you really want to find the advanced search page you have to start your search first and then go all the way to the bottom of the SIRP where you will find a link to advanced search.

Under the guise of “people don’t use it”, the similar pages and links to a specific page (backlinks) options have been removed.  Now why would anybody want those nasty things anyway?

Similar Pages

Similar pages now have to be searched using and  This type of search is important to the expert searcher to develop search syntax and to find other players in a given market. The Google search syntax is most often a poor substitute for the above search engines.


To find the sites linking to a particular page you have to do it in the main search box using the Google search syntax,  Google’s link command isn’t very useful because Google collects so few backlinks. Bing is no help with backlinks. Yahoo closed its Site Explorer some time ago.  It might seem like searching backlinks is now limited to the scant Google results or nothing if you don’t have SEO tools on hand. Fortunately, that is not true.

Blekko Backlinks to the Rescue

Blekko is an excellent alternative for finding backlinks.

The search syntax is to use their slashtags /links or /domainlinks with a URL or domain name. The /links slashtag will find pages that link to a particular page whereas the /domainlinks slashtag finds all inbound links to a particular site.

The second route is via your search results. At the end of each search result is a downwards pointing arrow labelled SEO. Click on this and select links from the pop-up box. This creates a /links search syntax for the page given in the search result. Backlinks

We have also used successfully. Search by the domain name, then select [backlinks] next to the domain name in the resulting table.  At the top right of the backlinks table, select External Only: On to get the external backlinks.


Stealth Search for Google-free Wednesday

Stealth Search Engine

When I first looked at this search engine on 29 Oct 11, its ‘about’ and ‘privacy policy’ pages looked suspiciously like what was on another search engine’s ‘about’ pages. Worst of all, it didn’t find any results when I searched for my name.  That was in the first days of November 2011, today this thing is working much better and the about pages have been rewritten, but still confusing in places. However, I am not sure I would trust the results or the privacy features yet.

Given the scale of the improvements I have seen in less than one month, this is a search engine I will keep tabs on. For example, in their @UseStealth Twitter feed they say, “we don’t pass info through http refferer”, if this is true, then this will become one of my search tools.  The news search returned good results from an interesting assortment of sources during my tests today. The video search only seems to search Google and YouTube and the image searches return poor results compared to other, larger search engines.



Google-Free Wednesday

Our Google-Free Wednesdays create familiarity with the new, specialised, and often more relevant search engines.  Its been a while since I have come across a  a new and worthy candidate for this honor. Today, the honor goes to DuckDuckGo (DDG).


I like this search engine because it eliminates a lot of the spam sites that have twisted and manipulated the Google results lately.  I have previously written about encrypted search engines like Scroogle Scraper and the Encryped Google search.

DDG goes further to protect your privacy. If properly set-up, DDG (Redirect setting) doesn’t send your search terms in the HTTP referrer header to the sites you click on. Your search terms may reveal your interest to the sites you visit and this may compromise an investigation.  It also uses a version of the HTTPS Everywhere FireFox add-on for its secure site connection. However, to ensure your first search is secure you may have to first enter a “dummy” search to get to HTTPS version.

DuckDuckGo also operates a Tor exit enclave, which means you can get end to end anonymous and encrypted searching by using Tor & DDG together. That means if you’re on Tor, and you access DDG, you’ll likely exit through the DDG relay and get service much faster. Tor can be slow, but this should speed it up a bit if you’re searching using DDG. Only DDG traffic exits from the DDG relay.

The lack of persistent settings requires the use URL settings like this: “”. Once you are at the properly set-up DDG homepage, drag the URL to the bookmarks toolbar.  Use the bookmark to launch DDG with your settings. When you click on the bookmark you will find that you are at the normal HTTP homepage. Enter a dummy search to be certain all your searches are encrypted (HTTPS) and not leaking data to the sites you visit through the referrer header.

Ixquick for Google-free Wednesday

The Ixquick search engine results appear normal, but underneath each link description a Proxy link appears. Clicking it gets the website through an anonymous proxy. The page will load slower when viewed through the proxy, but if privacy is important, then you probably won’t mind the wait.

The search results aren’t as good as you would get from the large search engines, but the proxy thing is quick, handy, and just simply cool. The problem I see is that it only displays an artificially small set of results for your search. For example, 64 unique results selected from at least 1,121,619,121 matching results for “intel”. You only get 64 hits — nothing more.

Finding Slides offers a search engine powered by Slide Executive, a PowerPoint software and tools company.

Searching “McEachin” in Google I get 37 hits. Doing the same search in SlideFinder, I get one hit. In the Google results, the SlideFinder result appears third from the bottom with a different file name than found by SlideFinder.

According the SlideFinder  blog, they concentrate on indexing presentations from university websites as these “will often contain high quality content.” The blog is worth following if you regularly search for PowerPoint presentations.

This thing works very well for finding references to company names and Web sites. The person who prepared the presentation usually knows things that interest me. It’s usually easy to find the person who made the PowerPoint file. Write-out my questions, make a telephone call, get answers, write report, and move on to the next job.

Google-Free Wednesday


Previously, I wrote about file searches using OSUN.ORG. provides a file search  encompassing Web, FTP, Usenet, Metalink and P2P resources (ed2k/emule) including 47 file types and 554+ file extensions including over 167 file upload services. It also offers an alert service sent to your email.

However, not all information in the search database has every property you might be searching for, therefore, you have to explore the different ways to search for the file in the advanced search screen.

In my experience, this is not a good search engine to use to search by a person’s name or a company name. The files are not well indexed in this fashion.  One must also be careful to select the “All Files” button in the “Adult Filter” to be sure all the files found appear in the search results.

I usually search by a file name for other versions of a file that I already know about. In some cases, will give me an understanding of how widely circulated a file may be, or turn-up different versions of the same file.

Avoiding Google’s Own Censors

Better off with Bing

This excellent article by Lawrence Solomon illustrates why a researcher or investigator must use more than one search engine.

Googlegate: The search engine may be standing up to Chinese censors. What about Google’s own censors? 

Search for “Googlegate” on Google and you’ll get a paltry result (my result yesterday was 29,300). Search for “Googlegate” on Bing, Microsoft’s search engine competitor, and the result numbers an eye-popping 72.4 million. If you’re a regular Google user, as opposed to a Bing user, you might not even know that “Googlegate” has been a hot topic for years in the blogosphere — that’s the power that comes of being able to control information.

… Google began to minimize the Climategate scandal by hiding Climategate pages from its users.

Bing, in contrast, didn’t make climategate pages disappear. As you’d expect from a search engine that wasn’t manipulating data, search results on Bing climbed steadily until they peaked at around 51 million…