Google is one of the world’s largest companies. Although they have expanded into many areas of our lives, they are still best known for their search engine. To keep their services free, Google records a staggering amount of data about our online habits. That data is used to show us targeted advertising—Google’s primary source of income.
If you’re looking for a privacy-focused alternative to Google search, then the DuckDuckGo search engine might be the answer.
DuckDuckGo describes itself as “the search engine that doesn’t track you.”
Most search engines collect and store search data, with Google even linking that data to your account. The recorded information is used to personalize your search results, and to show you targeted advertising.
But DuckDuckGo (DDG) doesn’t track you and opts not to personalize your search results.
The site has grown steadily since its inception, going from an average 79,000 daily searches in 2010, to 38.8 million daily and 31 billion total searches as of June 2019.
Some of this growth has been down to DDG’s partnerships with browsers like Firefox and Apple’s Safari. They have also partnered with many Linux operating systems and have native apps for both Android and iOS.
For those that want to take anonymity a step further, TOR browser users are presented with DuckDuckGo search results by default. DDG focuses on search result quality over quantity, with results coming from over 400 sources.
If you still crave alternative results, DDG’s bangs feature allows you to search third-party sites and even other search providers directly.
DuckDuckGo was first launched in 2008 by founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg. It is still owned and operated by Weinberg under the privately held company DuckDuckGo Inc. The company currently has over 65 employees working behind the scenes to continue development of DDG.
When talking about privacy, it is essential to know a bit about the people that run the companies you entrust with your data. Before creating DDG, Gabriel Weinberg developed one of the first-wave social networks, Names Database.
He later sold the business for approximately $10 million in 2006. The money was used to self-fund the development of DDG through the company’s early years. Weinberg later co-authored Traction, a book about startup growth.
Weinberg’s initial cash injection carried the company for some years. In 2011, the venture capital firm Union Square Ventures invested in DDG. According to Crunchbase, that initial funding round netted DDG an additional $3 million. To date, their external fundraising has generated $13 million.
However, venture capital investments don’t make a company profitable. To create a financially sustainable business model, DDG displays advertising.
However, unlike other search engines, the adverts are not based on targeted data. Instead, the ads are based exclusively on the keywords in your search. All of DDG’s advertising is syndicated by Yahoo, which is part of the Yahoo-Microsoft search alliance.
While DDG doesn’t provide any personal data to either company, the inclusion of two technology giants with questionable attitudes to privacy might make you uncomfortable. That’s why DDG allows you to head over to the settings and disable advertisements.
This is one of the most important points in the DuckDuckGo vs. Google battle.
DuckDuckGo is also part of Amazon and eBay’s affiliate programs. If you click through to either site from your search results and make a purchase, DDG receives a small percentage of the sale. However, no personal information is passed through to either company.
Developments in recent years have shown that many technology companies can’t be trusted with your data. From Facebook selling your data to unscrupulous third parties to Timehop losing the personal information of over 21 million accounts, there are many data breaches that may have put you at risk
So, it’s only natural that you would question why you should trust DuckDuckGo. The founder’s privacy-focused background and the company’s admirable business model are excellent starting points, but there are plenty more reasons to trust DDG. If you’ve been wondering is DuckDuckGo safe, then these points may reassure you.
It ends with the assuring statement:
“…we will comply with court-ordered legal requests. However, in our case, we don’t expect any because there is nothing useful to give them since we don’t collect any personal information.”
As well as being built using free and open source software (FOSS), DDG has made parts of their software open source. Many of the site’s designs, mobile apps, browser extensions, whitelists, and instant answers are available on DuckDuckGo’s GitHub page.
Although the primary search core is proprietary, open-sourcing most other parts of the site means that, given the inclination, anyone can view the code.
Like many companies, DDG also donates a portion of their income to good causes. They specifically select organizations which share their “vision of raising the standard of trust online.”
Each year DuckDuckGo selects a new group of organizations, even reaching out to Reddit for suggestions. To date, they have donated $1.3 million to their chosen beneficiaries. The Donations page on their website lists each donation they’ve made, arranged by year.
In January 2018, DuckDuckGo moved beyond search, releasing a suite of tools to help you maintain your privacy across the internet. They revamped their browser extensions and mobile apps to include tracking protection, encryption, and quick access to their private search.
The update also added a Site Privacy Grade rating from A through to F, for you to gauge how much a site maintains your privacy. Many of the features found in the browser extension and mobile apps aim to stop tracking and protect your privacy. In other words, DuckDuckGo’s privacy apps want to keep you safe online.
Alongside search, Google operates some of the web’s most used software including Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar, and more besides. Google’s access to vast amounts of your data means that its results can be deeply personalized and their search page pulls it all together in one place.
DuckDuckGo doesn’t have any personal data to draw from, and so makes itself stand out in other ways. It’s one of the many ways that DuckDuckGo protects your personal information online.
This privacy-focused environment is almost the exact reverse of Google’s highly targeted surroundings. There are no personalized ads, no personal search results, and no filter bubble. Depending on your point of view, this is either one of DDG’s best or worst features. For the privacy-minded, this lack of tracking is likely to seal the deal.
However, DuckDuckGo has another trick up its sleeve: bangs.
Bangs allow you to search third-party sites directly from DuckDuckGo. Say you wanted to search makeuseof.com. Google would let you perform a site search by entering site:makeuseof.com. Using DDG’s bangs, you type !muo followed by your search term. There are even plenty of bangs that make Google search look slow.
What’s more, searching a site with any of the thousands of available bangs takes you directly to the site, rather than the search engine’s results. If you do find yourself missing Google’s tailored results, then adding !g with your query will take you directly there.
At this point, most of us are already deeply embedded in operating systems, browsers, and apps. That Google is so widely accessible on nearly every device, screen, and browser means that DuckDuckGo needs to be readily available wherever you need it too.
That’s why DDG has graduated from its web-only origins to now offer mobile apps and browser extensions which add privacy-focused features to their private search.
DuckDuckGo is a search provider on most mainstream browsers, but Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari users can also install the DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials extension. The extension blocks hidden advertising trackers, forces sites to switch to HTTPS where possible, and gives you quick access to DDG’s search.
DuckDuckGo’s Android and iOS offerings build on the features found in the browser extensions. Tracking prevention, encryption, and DDG’s private search are all built into a minimal mobile DuckDuckGo browser. A fire icon on the browser lets you erase all browsing data and close all active tabs.
There is a basic bookmarking feature for access to your favorite sites, but there are few other features. For most people, this won’t do as a browser replacement. However, it’s handy for when you need to search for something sensitive.
Google became the dominant force in search by offering you personalized search. They built incredibly useful apps and services which captured even more of our data to improve your search results further. However, in light of several privacy scandals in recent years, we are becoming more cautious with our data.
DuckDuckGo shows us that user privacy and usefulness aren’t mutually exclusive. Is it the absolute winner of the DuckDuckGo vs. Google fight?
DuckDuckGo appeals to the privacy-minded, but importantly, it isn’t a niche product. There are a range of useful features and some DuckDuckGo search tricks that don’t even work on Google