A Defensive Computing Checklist    by Michael Horowitz
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Topics below
Mobile Search Engine Defaults, Which Search Engine?, Beware the Ads Google Search, Disable Google AI Overview, Remove Google Search Results, Bing Search


November 8, 2023: Google spent $26 billion to hide this phone setting from you by Geoffrey A. Fowler for the Washington Post. Google goes to great lengths to be your default search engine on mobile devices. In fact, they pay Apple and Samsung billions of dollars for this. How many billions? 26. So, if Google search is so good, why does the company need to spend this much to make sure we never even consider the alternatives? Google needs to spy on us for their advertising and Apple and Samsung took free money to let them. Everyone looks bad in the article. Quote: "Most people haven't thought much about the search function on their devices, much less how Google got there. But this default funny business might make you take a second look at not only Google, but also your trust in Apple, Samsung and other companies for selling you out ... Tech companies know you are way too busy to poke around in the settings. In fact, they’re counting on it."

  1. To change the default search engine on iOS: Settings -> Safari -> Search Engine. Notice how the setting is hidden under in the Safari section. Clearly you are not meant to find it. (I verified this on an iPad with iOS 16.7)
  2. On Android the default Search Engine needs to be changed in two places: the home screen widget and the Chrome browser.
  3. Android Chrome: Settings -> Search Engine This worked for me on Android 10 and 14.
  4. Android search widget: The article was particularly sloppy and amateurish here, in that it did not say which version of Android the author tested with, nor the hardware manufacturer of the device he used. As if he was unaware of the huge variation in Android devices. The article says to long press the widget, remove it and then install a widget for you favorite search engine. I tried to remove the widget on a Samsung device and it worked. However, on multiple Pixel phones, it was impossible to remove the Google search widget.

The article said nothing about other browsers on either operating system, so I will.

  1. Firefox 119 on Android 14: To make a permanent change: Settings -> Search. You can also make a temporary change by clicking the icon on the far left of the address bar.
  2. Firefox Focus 119 on Android 14: Sadly, this defaults to using Google search which is surprising for a browser focused on privacy. Change it at Settings -> Search -> Search Engine
  3. Brave 1.60.110 on Android 14: Settings -> Search Engines. There are two options, for a Standard Tab and a Private Tab. Both default to the Brave Search Engine but offer other choices.
  4. DuckDuckGo 5.177.1 on Android 14: there is no customization, it always uses their own Search Engine.
  5. Brave 1.51.2 on iOS 16.7 defaults to Google even though Brave has its own Search Engine which it defaults to using on other operating systems. Apple profits, you lose. Change it at: Settings -> Search Engines -> Standard Tab and Private Tab
  6. Firefox 118 on iOS 16.7 also defaults to Google. Change it at Settings -> Search.
  7. DuckDuckGo on iOS 16.7 has no setting to modify the Search Engine. It uses its own.


Reasonable people can disagree as to Search Engines, but for Defensive Computing, it is best to avoid Google.

Search engine StartPage gets its results from Google and claims not to record your search history.

Kagi has no ads and does no tracking. But, you have to pay for it. You need an account to use it, and the first 100 searches are free. Not 100/month. Just 100. Period. They have their own index and they also get search results from other search engines.

One downside to DuckDuckGo is that they get their results from Bing and they do not filter out bulls..t as well as Google does. See Fed Up With Google, Conspiracy Theorists Turn to DuckDuckGo New York Times (Feb 2022) and Top 5 Private Search Engines by Security Trails (Dec. 2019).

Neeva is a new search engine that is ad-free and private. There is both a free and paid version. They have their own database from which to draw search results, but they also get data from Apple, Bing, Yelp and others.
Update May 2023: Neeva is shutting down. Next Steps for Neeva

Mark Hurst, of GoodReports.com, says that the Best search engine is DuckDuckGo. Others he suggests are: Whoogle, Mojeek, Brave Search (in the Brave browser), Ecosia and Searx. He is not a fan of Start Page or Neeva (read the article). The article was Last updated: November 4, 2022.


February 3, 2023: Until further notice, think twice before using Google to download software by Dan Goodin for Ars Technica. Searching Google for downloads of popular software has always come with risks, but over the past few months, it has been downright dangerous. "Google Ads has become the go-to place for criminals to spread their malicious wares that are disguised as legitimate downloads by impersonating brands such as Adobe Reader, Gimp, Microsoft Teams, OBS, Slack, Tor, and Thunderbird." The Domain Name Rules page on this site shows how to recognize scam domain names. Not said in the article is that this can not affect iOS and Android which have their own app stores. This only affects ancient operating systems without an app store: Windows and macOS. The article also does not offer the obvious defense of blocking ads, probably because Ars Technica relies on ads itself.

From the FBI: Cyber Criminals Impersonating Brands Using Search Engine Advertisement Services to Defraud Users (December 21, 2022). Not really news. Quoting: "The FBI is warning the public that cyber criminals are using search engine advertisement services to impersonate brands and direct users to malicious sites that host ransomware and steal login credentials and other financial information ... Use an ad blocking extension when performing internet searches."

Scams are showing up at the top of online searches by By Geoffrey Fowler for the Washington Post (September 2022). To be clear, this is nothing new. The article discusses Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo. Quoting: "The core issue is that many search ads are sold through self-service systems, where advertisers don't necessarily need to be authorized or have their links checked by humans. The bad guys sometimes try to create thousands of accounts simultaneously, in the hopes that a few get through." The author interviewed someone from Google who refused to say what percent of their advertisers are currently verified. Microsoft, which provides both ads and search results for DuckDuckGo was no more forthcoming.


I'm begging you not to Google for airline customer service numbers by Shira Ovide in the Washington Post. February 27, 2024. Long story short: if you want contact information for an airline, go to the airline's website. A Google search is just asking for trouble. Scam contact info is not limited to the ads.

Minimize Google tracking by not being signed in to Google when making queries. You can tell if you are signed in by checking the upper right corner of the screen (see screen shots). A single letter in a circle means you are signed in, a blue "Sign in" button means you are not. Google prefers that you not do this.

Consider setting a Google Alert (google.com/alerts) for your name and address to hopefully learn when your address is leaked in a data breach. This takes a bit of skill. As an example, if George Washington lived at 123 East Main Street, his alert might be
"george washington" AND "123" AND "east" OR "e" AND "main"
With Google, the AND and OR logical operators must be in upper case. Also, Google ignores parenthesis. The 123 probably does not have to be in quotes, but this insure that it does not match 9123 or 881123. I am assuming there that the OR is evaluated before the ANDs, but I have not seen an example this complicated. Mr. Washington might want to simplify this a bit down to
"george washington" AND "123" AND "east" OR "e" or maybe
"george washington" AND "123" AND "main"
This is a good source on how to construct advanced Google searches: Advanced Search Operators by Daniel M. Russell November 11, 2022.

Google SafeSearch can help you manage explicit content in search results such as Nudity, graphic sex acts, other sexually explicit material, violence and gore. There are three options: one that filters, one that blurs explicit images and one that shows all search results. To enable a filter for Google search on your kids' devices, follow the instructions here: Filter or blur explicit results with SafeSearch. To keep SafeSearch turned on and prevent users from turning it off, there is lock SafeSearch. See: Lock SafeSearch for accounts, devices & networks you manage by Google.


DISABLE GOOGLE AI OVERVIEW (Section created May 2024)  top

AI Overviews is a new Google search feature that summarizes web content using a Google in-house Large Language Model. Google recently began rolling out AI Overviews to everyone in the United States and it is planned to expanded to other countries as well. The initial reaction has been poor, spawning articles about how to disable it (and this section of this page).

Note that getting rid of AI Overviews also removes video, image, and snippets which can be useful. So, maybe use two browsers (always a good idea anyway) and disable AI Overviews in only one browser.


The instructions below are from this article Frustration grows over Google's AI Overviews feature, how to disable by Mayank Parmar for Bleeping Computer (May 19, 2024). Note that this only applies to desktop (Windows, Mac, Linux) versions of Chrome, and, it only applies when you search from the address bar in Chrome. In May 2024, I verified this on Chrome version 125 on Windows 10.

  1. In Chrome, click the three vertical dots in the top right corner -> Settings
  2. In the left side vertical menu click on Search Engine
  3. Click on "Manage search engines and site search" in the middle of the page
  4. Click the white Add button in the Site Search section
  5. We are defining a new Search Engine. The title and shortcut name do not seem to be too important. A good name might be "GoogleNoAI". A good shortcut might be "gnai"
  6. In the URL field type: {google:baseURL}/search?udm=14&q=%s
  7. Click the just-turned-blue Add button
  8. To activate this just-defined Search Engine, click the vertical three-dots to the right of it and select Make default
  9. The Search Engine definition should have moved from the Site Search section to the Search Engines section. Also, next to the name it should say "(Default)"
  10. Restart Chrome for good luck

These instructions come from: Google Search's 'udm=14' trick lets you kill AI search for good by Ron Amadeo for Ars Technica. Last updated May 24, 2024. The article is a worthwhile read and it conclued with "... things are getting so bad that the real recommendation is probably to switch to something other than Google at this point."

  1. Start by enabling custom search engines by entering "about:config" in the Address Bar
  2. Search for "browser.urlbar.update2.engineAliasRefresh"
  3. Hit the Plus button on the right. It should now say "True"
  4. Restart Firefox
  5. Settings -> Search -> Click the gray Add button at the bottom
  6. Name: GoogleNOai (good as any)
  7. Alias: gnai (short for Google No AI)
  8. URL: https://www.google.com/search?q=%s&udm=14
  9. Click the blue "Add Engine" button
  10. Restart Firefox for good luck
  11. Test this by searching in the Address Bar for the Alias followed by your search terms. For example, type
    "gnai George Washington"
  12. You can stop here and have No AI as an option. Or, to change it to the default
    Settings -> Search -> Default Search Engine section -> look for the Name of the Search Engine you just created.

As for other browsers and other Operating Systems, this is a good article: Bye Bye, AI: How to turn off Google's annoying AI overviews and just get search results by Avram Piltch for Toms Hardware. May 22, 2024. It first discusses an AI Overview blocking extension called Bye Bye, Google AI written by the author of the article. An extension would not be my first choice. The article has many screen shots and also covers a trick for configuring the mobile version of Chrome. Finally, it walks you through (with screen shots) configuring the iOS and Android versions of Firefox.

Another article covering multiple browsers: How to use Google Search entirely AI-free automatically by Martin Brinkmann for Ghacks. May 24, 2024

This can also be done manually by adding the parameter "&udm=14" to any Google Search URL.

Configuring desktop Brave browser ...

Configuring desktop Edge browser ...

Configuring desktop Mullvad browser ...



As of April 2022, you can ask Google to remove sensitive personal information from its search results. This requires you to have a Google account.

  1. Remove your personal information from Google from Google (undated)
  2. Remove your personal information from Google from Google (undated)
  3. How to Remove Your Personal Info From Google's Search Results by Reece Rogers for Wired (May 2022)
  4. The Android Google app was scheduled add a new option, in October 2022, that should help you remove your personal data from Google searches. Open the app, click on your profile icon in the top right corner and look for the "Results about you" option. The Android Google app dated Sept 28, 2022 did not include this option. The version of the app dated August 11, 2023 (14.32.17.morestuff) does include it but the feature is marked as "Beta".
  5. To remove personal info: Search for your name and a bit of personal info, such the city you live in. If you find a result that includes personal information, click the 3 dots next to it, then click on Remove Result. It should be removed in a couple days.
  6. Remove select personally identifiable info or doxxing content from Google Search from Google so, of course, no date.


I have blogged about Bing a couple times. The first time was because they removed my RouterSecurity.org website from their search results. See Banned by Bing (April 26, 2021). Then, after the site was restored it was not in its usual top spot when searching for "Router Security". No big deal, but the top search result was a really miserable article, which prompted another blog from me: Bing prefers miserable Router Security advice (May 15, 2021).

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