DuckDuckGo Explained: What Is DuckDuckGo
If you are someone who cares about their privacy, you must have heard of DuckDuckGo search engine and their battle against Google. Google is still reigning on the throne of search engines, with more than 90% of web searches done through Google. In comparison, a search engine like DuckDuckGo has approximately 1% of total search results and has an average of about 83 million searches per day.
Relative to the number of employees it has, The rate of DuckDuckGo's growth is rapid. It is a heavier hitter than its weight suggests. So what is DuckDuckGo, how did it start, and why are people switching to it?
Gabriel Weinberg created DuckDuckGo in 2008. His idea was to battle Google by attacking where it's most criticized; its privacy policies.
The idea was to make a search engine that doesn't store any user information. This was achieved by customizing search so that topics couldn't identify users, store the IP address, and avoid gathering cookies whenever possible.
Let's take you through a trip in time of how DuckDuckGo grew over time with events:
1. The genius billboard 2011
In January 2011, Gabriel Weinberg advertised on a billboard stating, "Google tracks you. We don't." that lasted a month, costing him over $7000.
This billboard caught the attention of UVS (Union Square Ventures), which gave him funding to further this project. This was the first step for DuckDuckGo to start growing its popularity (marked as A in the image below).
This caused a backlash at Google, and a spike in the use of DuckDuckGo at this point in time, DuckDuckGo reached the one million searches per day milestone (marked as B).
3. Edward Snowden's revelations in 2013
A massive increase in the use of DuckDuckGo came in June 2013 with Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA surveillance program. As people started feeling vulnerable, it was no surprise that the use of a privacy focus search engine boomed.
The number of queries per month jumped from 1.7 million in May 2012 to approximately 2.6 million in June 2012 and 3.4 million in July 2012 (marked as C).
4. Extending to browsers 2014
In 2014 Safari and Firefox web browsers added a DuckDuckGo extension for web search; this increased users' number even further.
The Safari's addition of DuckDuckGo as one of the possibilities for a default search engine on its devices shows how much Apple started paying attention to privacy issues, especially when considering Jennifer Lawrence's photo leaks scandal at the time. (marked D and E).
5. Privacy beyond search 2018
The revamped version of DuckDuckGo was released in January 2018. It involved extending the privacy feature further of their browser extension and mobile app with built-in tracker network blocking.
This allowed users to block the tracking of large companies like Facebook and Google are nested inside webpages you visit. In addition, they increased their encryption protection by sending you to an encrypted version of a webpage (if available).
Lastly, DuckDuckGo teamed up with Terms of service didn't read (TOSDR) to make terms of service in websites easier to comprehend (marked F).
DuckDuckGo Selling Points
The main selling point of DuckDuckGo is the provided privacy. The privacy beyond protection update implemented by DuckDuckGo provided users with extra tools.
To elaborate in further detail, the built-in anti-tracking works by preventing the lurking tracking implemented by larger corporations in other websites.
Google tracker can be found lurking in nearly 76% of web pages. Regardless of whether you accessed this webpage from Google or some other source, Google would still know and add this to its database. Facebook does the same, with 24% of pages on the internet lurking with its tracker. Their anti-tracking blocks all possible hidden trackers and exposes the advertising networks tracking you over time.
The increased encryption protection revolves around sending you to HTTPS links, which are more secure and protected in comparison to HTTP links when found. As many sites tend to send their users to the non-encrypted version of their websites because the pages would load faster, DuckDuckGo ensures to send you to the encrypted one instead of prioritizing your safety over website loading speed.
This is implemented by making a few bullet points of what every website's terms of service include and color-coding them in terms of privacy issues from green, to gray, to yellow, to red, indicating which terms of service are most invasive of your privacy.
You can also view the original text from which each point was summarized. A total grade rating is also provided on terms&privacy policies ranging from A to E. While not all websites are already studied and ranked, they both are working on it together to cover as many websites out there as possible.
DuckDuckGo Bangs! Are an innovative method used as a shortcut to search another website without opening it. By using bangs in the form of the exclamation mark ( ! ), you can search a specific website database (Amazon, Wikipedia).
Using bangs with DuckDuckGo doesn't mean you won't be subjected to the searched website's privacy policies, so keep that in mind.
Currently, DuckDuckGo has more than 13 thousand bangs. More bangs are added by the day. You can suggest a bang by submitting your proposal of a particular bang on their website.
The Downfalls of DuckDuckGo
DuckDuckGo does collect data from users, but they claim it cannot identify the users in any way. It is used instead to optimize search results and create ads based on collected data for revenue. That being said, the lack of tracking they implement means they cannot track your personal data to personalize your search results further.
So when you Google search a particular topic, for example, basketball sports clothing. While DuckDuckGo will give you a general result of all possibilities, Google would check what your previous search history of the topic is and what matches you've seen. Hence, it is more likely to show you your favorite team's basketball clothing results instead, making it more personalized for your taste.
Issues with Google Privacy
Google has been building itself as an empire for the last few decades. Some fear it is becoming a monopoly due to how integrated their products are becoming in our day-to-day life.
Many of us had the event of freaking out when someone in the vicinity was talking about a particular topic and "coincidentally" an ad about that topic pops up, or after a search result on Google or YouTube products relating to that same topic starts appearing everywhere.
It either means you're really lucky and should go and buy a lottery ticket, or maybe there is more to this than meets the eye.
In fact, it's no secret that Google tracks what you do according to their own help center. But is it really that bad?
On the one hand, when Google knows what you like, search for, and view, Google algorithm starts optimizing search results to suit you better as Google would study your previous search history and provide you with products more relating.
The high integration of apps and devices also comes into play. Having searched for something on your laptop the next time you open your phone, having that search result on Google maps saved can be convenient.
On the other hand, many find that Google tracks information that wouldn't necessarily be needed. I mean, when was the last time you decided you wanted to share your billing history and medical history with that complete stranger sitting over the next table? Probably never! So why should you share it with Google?
Google Is Not Just a Search Engine
Despite all that is said. Google has become so integrated into our lives that it becomes near impossible to let go of it. If you take a step back and check how much Google is integrated into our devices and day-to-day activities, you would be surprised.
It's not just a search engine; it's a wide variety of apps and websites. A few examples of Google products we sometimes forget are Google are Gmail, YouTube, Google Chrome, Google Maps, Android, Google Play store, Google drive, Google planner, and many more.
Google has made people very dependent on its internal ecosystem. It has become really tough to get out of it, partly because Google itself prioritizes its products with its own search results. In fact, more than 70% of Android-based devices ship with pre-installed Google software, simply because Google owns Android.
The Middle Ground Solution Google + VPN
Unless you are willing to leave everything that Google has to offer and cutting it out of your life, and let's be real, it is hardly possible to do so. An alternative to switching to DuckDuckGo and letting go of all these apps would be to use a VPN service while using Google.
Granted, you would have to be logged off your Google account when doing so, and it would hinder the smart search mechanism of Google. This would still give you a combination of privacy and high functionality with all the extra features Google provides you with, bringing the best of both worlds.
Owning a VPN is becoming more and more necessary for all those who value their privacy, primarily if you reside in one of the 5/9/14-Eyes Alliance countries or from the spying eyes of hackers. You would also get a few extra features to enjoy, such as accessing geo-restricted content by masking your IP via changing the server.