Saturday, 20 October 2018 11:50

How One Privacy-First Search Engine Is Benefiting From Google's Mistakes

Author:  Jason Evangelho

Source: This article was Published forbes.com By Jason Evangelho - Contributed by Member: Jasper Solander

DuckDuckGo is a pro-privacy company taking an aggressive stance on not tracking people across all corners of the internet. One has to wonder if its product practically markets itself in 2018. With an endless parade of headlines centered around violations of user privacy by the likes of Google and Facebook, it's no wonder DuckDuckGo experienced 50% growth in the last year, with its daily searches crossing the 30 million mark.

Hitting the first milestone of 10 million daily searches took DuckDuckGo seven years, but the company's mindshare has grown at an alarming rate since then. Here's the announcement via Twitter:

"DuckDuckGo fun fact: it took us seven years to reach 10 million private searches in one day, then another two years to hit 20 million, and now less than a year later we're at 30 million! Thank you all! #ComeToTheDuckSide"

30 million is a paltry number compared to Google's 3.5 billion daily searches, but here's a unique perspective on those numbers: in 2017, despite an ever-increasing number of people coming online to conduct searches, Google's share of that massive search volume continuously decreased beginning in August 2017.

The company doesn't directly attribute any one factor to their success, but the PR and privacy nightmares consistently created by the likes of Google and Facebook certainly make its marketing department's job easier.

I asked a company spokesperson via email how DuckDuckGo feels about this, and here's their response in full:

"With increased scrutiny on big tech, the tides have shifted, and consumers aren’t just looking for great service anymore, they’re also looking for responsible corporate stewardship. From the start, our thesis has been that people should be able to take control of their privacy online, without any tradeoffs. With the near-daily reminders that companies like Facebook and Google can't be trusted with our personal information, that thesis is becoming increasingly relevant for more and more consumers. We're glad to have more people joining us in our work to raise the standard of trust online, and are meeting the increased demand with additional tools, such as a [Privacy Essentials] (https://duckduckgo.com/app) browser extension and mobile app, to protect users no matter where they go on the Internet. We believe the Internet shouldn’t feel so creepy, and getting the privacy you deserve online should be as simple as closing the blinds."

DuckDuckGo also turns privacy headlines and social media risks into an educational opportunity. For example, when Twitter warned that some Direct Messages were exposed, DuckDuckGo used its own Twitter account to spread awareness of the news by retweeting a BBC article on the topic, reminding people that "private messages w/in social networks aren't truly private unless using end-to-end encryption." It then linked to an incredibly conversational, approachable guide it authored on how to send truly private messages to others.

Private messaging is not a service DuckDuckGo offers, but the company is bullish on spreading awareness and educating the masses on privacy risks. Therefore it will enthusiastically endorse companies who also promote privacy-first practices. DuckDuckGo's guiding mantra, after all, is straightforward: "We don't store your personal information. Ever."

In my previous article about DuckDuckGo -- which I was inspired to write after personally ditching Google search --, I argued that we agree to this by simply using these services. That we consent to have companies like Google and Facebook collect our information. But I'll admit that I'm partially wrong. Dead wrong.

At Bloomberg, writer Shira Ovide has an insightful take on the recent Google+ fiasco that everyone should read. Here's an excerpt:

People may not know all the gory details, but when they choose to use Facebook, Google+, Twitter, WeChat, iPhones, and other technology products or services, they generally understand that the companies might collect dossiers on what they read, who they chat with and where they go. But people absolutely do not agree to whatever arrangements those companies make with outside parties to pass along personal information or data. Period.

That's precisely what makes DuckDuckGo special. The company spins a profit with advertising, yes. Those ads are based on keywords you enter, but they are not customized or personalized by your internet history. There are no trackers following your every move. Your information is not sold to outside parties, because there is no information being collected or stored.

DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials app and browser extensionDUCKDUCKGO

In January 2018 DuckDuckGo took another step toward empowering users to browse the web without feeling like they're being stalked. It launched the Privacy Essentials browser extension that blocks trackers everywhere you visit. At any time you can click through and see how many trackers have been blocked on a particular website, see how a site's "privacy rating" has been affected with the extension activities, and dig into historical stats.

Since I installed it on my Ubuntu laptop, the Privacy Essentials extension informs me that it's blocked trackers on 63% of the sites I've visited, with the biggest offenders being Google, Amazon, and media.net.

DDG isn't perfect, and you may initially notice some differences in the types of results you're getting. Perhaps that's because those results are less biased, less informed by your history and preferences.

Beyond that, DDG's engine isn't tuned for local results the way Google's is, but it's something the company is investing in going forward.

"In the past two years we have greatly improved our news results and local results (like for restaurants)," a DDG representative tells me via email. "We plan to continue such improvements with special attention to using more local sources where possible. In addition, we are working on improving our language detection and translations."

I would encourage anyone who wants a more private and less creepy web to give DuckDuckGo a shot. You can also toggle it as the default search provider in FireFox.


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