A bleak outlook. But Ghostery has taken a different route. Rather than rolling out its own search engine or browser, it will instead layer its privacy technology atop Firefox and the Bing Web Search API. The beta should launch by mid-January at the latest; those interested in testing it out can sign up here. The ultimate goal isn’t to overthrow Google. It’s to reimagine what the internet demands of its users.
“Nobody delivers ad-free private search today,” says Tillman. “As a first step we thought that was pretty unique. If you’re like, I want privacy and also I just hate ads, Ghostery search is the only option out there for you.”
Nothing’s free in this life, and Ghostery is no different. Whereas Google’s ad business subsidizes its free services like search and Chrome, Ghostery’s ad-free search requires a Ghostery Plus subscription, which costs $5 per month. The company is working on an ad-supported version that anyone can use for free, a model that would resemble the already popular privacy search engine DuckDuckGo, which places ads contextually rather than based on user behavior. (The business models run the gamut; the privacy-focused browser Brave blocks ads, but it has experimented with paying users who opt to view them.)
While they’re launching at the same time, Ghostery browser and search aren’t inextricable. The Ghostery browser doesn’t lock you into the company’s search engine; you can choose from six options to use as your default—yes, including Google. Likewise, Tillman says the next phase of growth will include promoting Ghostery search as an option in more established browsers.
Actually using the Ghostery browser and search engine in tandem, even at this early stage, is a refreshingly zippy if minimalist experience. That’s partly because of the foundation that Firefox and Bing provide. “We think that the core of the browser is really good,” says Tillman. “We take Firefox and then we strip it down.” That means no integrations like Pocket, which comes standard on Firefox proper. And privacy-friendly settings that might be optional on Mozilla’s browser are turned all the way up by default in Ghostery. (It also comes with a private browsing mode that goes to 11. “It’s much more aggressive,” says Tillman, “to the point where things get a little unusable.”)
Over the course of a few days of playing with the pre-beta as my daily driver, I found the Ghostery browser itself to be stable, with all the features you’d expect given its Firefox foundation. In addition to the stock privacy and anti-tracking features you can already find in the Ghostery extension, it takes advantage of Firefox features like Redirect Tracking Protection, which wipes away cookies and site data every 24 hours from sites you don’t visit often. It also enables advanced features like dynamic first-party isolation and protection against tracker-cloaking technology by default. Basically, it makes it as hard as possible for ad companies to follow you around the web.