Unlike Google, the DuckDuckGo search engine doesn’t track you.
In 2006 Gabriel Weinberg sold a company for millions. A year and a half later, he founded his next project with the money: an alternative search engine named DuckDuckGo. Initially the goal was to make it more efficient and compelling than Google by cutting down on spam and providing instant answers, similar to a Wikipedia or IMDb. The project launched in 2008, bringing Weinberg’s brainchild into public consciousness.
But Weinberg didn’t realize at the time that the main reason people were wary of Google wasn’t the user experience but how the search engine tracked its users. Being the astute entrepreneur that Weinberg is, he instantly saw this as an area for opportunity and a way to compete with one of the largest companies in the world. As a result, DuckDuckGo became the go-to search engine for privacy — long before the NSA leaks in 2013, when the government got “Snowdened,” and Facebook’s recent Cambridge Analytica scandal — all with a better user experience.
Here’s why you should consider making the move to the “Duck Side.”
1. The Search Engine That Doesn’t Track You
According to a micro-site connected to DuckDuckGo — DontTrack.us — Google tracks users on 75% of websites. The information gathered from your site visits and search terms can be used to follow you across over two million websites and applications. Oh, and all that private information is stored by Google indefinitely. (Hint: Don’t use Google for embarrassing searches that might cost you money during a divorce, for example. All that information can be subpoenaed by lawyers.)
Even Facebook tracks you across the internet. According to Weinberg, the social media company “operates a massive hidden tracker network.” He claims they’re “lurking behind about 25% of the top million sites, where consumers don’t expect to be tracked by Facebook.” And, as of now, there is no way to opt out of this so-called “experience.” (Don’t forget: Facebook owns Instagram.)
And since there are no digital privacy laws currently active in the United States, at the time of this writing anyway, consumers are forced to vote with their attention and time once again. As it stands now, companies are not required by federal law to share what information they collect, how it’s used, and whether or not it’s even been stolen. You’ve got to protect yourself by choosing your platforms and tools wisely.
As for DuckDuckGo, they do not track you or store your personal information. And while they do have some advertising on their platform for revenue purposes, you only see ads for what you search for — and those ads won’t stalk you around the web like a rabid spider.
2. DuckDuckGo Is a Company with Serious Balls
Weinberg resembles a younger, techier version of Eric Bana, and he’s got the same gall of the actor/rally racer. Case in point: in 2011, Weinberg pulled a highly successful publicity stunt for his alternative search engine by strategically placing a billboard right in Google’s backyard that called out the company for tracking its users. It earned the scrappy start-up valuable press from the likes of USA Today, Business Insider and Wired.
For those opposed to Google’s handling of users’ data, the billboard represented a major burn. Of course, it’s just one of the many ways Weinberg helped his company gain users. I highly recommend Traction, a wildly useful book cowritten by Weinberg and Justin Mares. It’s a must-read for any start-up founder or creative entrepreneur.
3. Keep Your Searches Private & Efficient
As for working with search engines, think of all the “embarrassing searches” you wish to keep private, whatever they may be. Now imagine that Google has all that information stored indefinitely — plus, it can be held against you in a court of law. Scary stuff, right? Turns out that what you search for online can be far more sensitive than the things you openly share on social media platforms. So how can you keep that stuff private?
In 2017 DuckDuckGo was able to integrate with the Brave Browser to provide a potential solution. With most browsers, websites can still track and monitor your behavior, even while you’re in “private browsing mode.” However, with this new combination of Brave’s privacy protection features and DuckDuckGo’s private search capabilities, you can surf the web without having your search terms or personal information collected, sold or shared.
But that’s not the only thing DuckDuckGo has to offer for a more empowered user experience. Another feature the search engine has become known for are “bangs!” Here’s how they work.
Random example: Let’s say you want to find Camille Paglia books on Amazon. If you were to search via Google, you might type “site: amazon camille paglia.” Your results might look like this:
Now let’s say you do the same thing with DuckDuckGo’s bangs. In this case, you would type “!a Camille Paglia.” Here’s what you’d get:
Bang! You’re right there on Amazon, redirected to their internal search page from DuckDuckGo.
Of course, you might be thinking, “Why not just search Amazon.com for the answer to begin with?” Well, bangs aren’t just for searching Amazon. You can use bangs to search nearly 11,000 sites (as of this writing), including eBay, YouTube (owned by Google), Wikipedia, Instagram and more. You can even suggest new ones.
Plus, with DuckDuckGo, you can see social media profiles by searching the user’s handle, explore app stores and discover alternative apps, shorten and expand links/URLs, generate complex passwords, find rhymes, determine whether or not sites are down (or if it’s really just you), calculate loan payments, receive instant answers to questions and more — all without having to leave the search engine.
4. It’s Growing — Fast
In a sense, Weinberg has achieved his initial goal of creating a search engine that offers a more direct and spam-free user experience. It just also happens to be much more private and way less creepy than the buzzword alternatives. Perhaps that’s why it’s growing so damn fast — 10 years after launching, that is.
In fact, 2017 was a monumental year for DuckDuckGo, accounting for 36% of all searches ever conducted through the search engine. It was also during 2017 that the company achieved 55% growth in daily private searches, crossing the threshold of 20 million private searches a day. Sure, the experience isn’t as highly customized as Google’s — which relies on your personal data to fine-tune results — but this little search engine that could still manages to provide solid, relevant results without infringing on your personal privacy.
5. Balancing the Scales of Good & Evil
When Google first started, it touted the mantra “Don’t be evil.” Curiously, it’s since changed to “Do the right thing.” It’s only now that most users have started to ask, “Do the right thing for whom?” And in light of the recent Facebook scandals, these same users are starting to wonder, “What the hell is my data actually being used for? Who does it benefit? And who actually has it?” Unsurprisingly, these are turning into the biggest questions of our time.
In the past, users assumed they had nothing to hide, and that it was even shameful to consider hiding their internet histories or online preferences. “Nobody cares about me. I’m nobody.” But to a major data company, one without constraints, how you spend your time and money, with whom, and on what sites can easily be sold to the highest bidder at your expense. So while Dax the Duck may not need to say, “We’re a source for good,” the brains behind DuckDuckGo seem to be balancing the scales in that direction anyway.
Through their donations to privacy organizations, as well as their micro-sites providing eye-opening data, various email campaigns to help internet users maintain their privacy, and plenty of generous content outlining the trouble with “informed consent” online, DuckDuckGo has become a force for good in the digital age. Of course, Google doesn’t have to become obsolete in the process — they still offer some remarkable services — but there need to be more alternatives, if only to provide a choice. What do you want as a search engine user? And how do you want your information to be handled?
That’s the real service DuckDuckGo provides: it gives you the option to say no to tracking. And without real policies in place in the U.S. to protect internet users, your best bet for privacy and data protection may just be to #ComeToTheDuckSide.