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How to set a unique search engine for private browsing in iOS 17

Safari on iOS 17

Apple has very quietly added another layer of privacy for Safari in iOS 17 that basically lets you avoid using Google when you are in private browsing.

Safari on iOS has long had private browsing — where it doesn't save your passwords or logins, for instance — and more recently it's added Private Relay. Stopping short of being a full VPN, Private Relay nonetheless exists to protect your privacy by only allowing websites to know what state or country you're in.

Yet Apple seemingly doesn't think that's enough. So for iOS 17, it has beefed up private browsing by letting you choose a different search engine.

Prior to iOS 17, Safari already had this option but it was a single control that applied to all searches. So whether you were in private browsing or not, you used the same search engine by default.

How to set a different search engine for private browsing

  1. On your iPhone, open Settings
  2. Scroll down to Safari and tap
  3. In the section headed Search, tap Private Search Engine
  4. Choose from the list of search engines available
Apple has added the ability to use a different search engine when in private browsing
Apple has added the ability to use a different search engine when in private browsing

In this private browsing section, your choice of search engines consists of:

  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Bing
  • DuckDuckGo
  • Ecosia

And there is also Use Default Search Engine, which is itself the default.

What this means is that the search engine used in private browsing will be whatever you've set up for searching in regular or non-private browsing. You have the same five engines to choose from.

But then if you tend to switch between search engines, private browsing will follow. If you've chosen Use Default Search Engine.

One-off searches

These settings apply to what your iPhone will use for you whenever you try searching the web for something. There is never anything to stop you using Safari to take you to, say, and enter a search there.

There are reasons to switch search engines — they each tend to return different results, for one thing. But it's curious that Apple has added this within the privacy feature of Private Browsing.