Are you concerned with digital data privacy? Well, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey in the UK, 78% of individuals don’t feel in control of their personal data online, while 40% worry about how companies use their personal data.
As the most visited website in the world, Google.com is an integral part of most users’ web experience. However, the tech giant often comes under the scanner for failing to protect its users’ privacy. If you’re worried about what Google knows about you, it might be time to look for an alternative. DuckDuckGo, a non-tracking search engine, has emerged as a formidable rival to Google, particularly for those users who consider privacy an essential criterion when choosing their search engine.
What is DuckDuckGo & how does it work?
DuckDuckGo (DDG), founded in 2008, is an internet search engine deeply invested in protecting its users’ privacy. DDG is a non-tracking search engine, and its extension blocks other companies’ trackers. DDG also helps with avoiding the manipulative filter bubble and enables faster internet browsing as all the excess tracking code is eliminated.
A typical search engine's revenue model involves using your data to provide personalised search results depending on your profile - location, past search history, and socio-economic factors. Unfortunately, this creates a “filter bubble,” or echo-chamber effect that shows you results that reinforce your opinions and ideology, essentially separating you from any alternative perspectives. This singularity in thought is dangerous as you continue to get increasingly polarised.
Such polarisation has far-reaching consequences, from global politics to our everyday opinions. So, we must start to question this technology-led manipulation and take our privacy concerns seriously. Tools like DDG, which put privacy at the forefront of technology, are practical tools that mitigate the impact of the surveillance-tech framework we find ourselves in.
DDG is written in Perl and runs on Nginx and Linux. The actual search data that you see is built on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) from approximately 400 different sources - including Yahoo!, WolframAlpha, and Wikipedia. This ensures that the quality of your search is not compromised, even as privacy is prioritised on this non-tracking search engine.
How Popular Is DuckDuckGo?
While DDG cannot release an exact number of users, since it's a non-tracking search engine, it estimates it is used by over 80 million people.
On January 11, 2021, DDG set a new company record with 102,251,307 search requests in one day. The total number of searches showed a 62% year-over-year increase, demonstrating the mainstream use of search engines that prioritise privacy. Kamyl Bazbaz, vice president of communications at DuckDuckGo, noted that “People are coming to us because they want more privacy, and it's generally spreading through word of mouth. People are looking for alternatives to the surveillance-tech business model.”
The Growing Concern of Privacy
Ever since the US National Security Agency (NSA) revelations in 2013, privacy concerns on the internet have taken centre stage in public discourse. The NSA tracked vast amounts of data from internet search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and other American companies. While the NSA justified this as a technique to protect the US from terrorists, the ethics of this activity have been debated repeatedly. Other concerns include using this tracked data for political campaigns and unfair political gains.
The privacy discourse has quickly moved from the realm of global governments to the private sector. The EU has adopted the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and it’s likely that more governments worldwide look to adopt privacy laws.
The private sector has no justifications for using personal data for noble purposes. Hence, consumers have started to question the tracking of personal data for private gains. Google extensively tracks your search history, and its trackers have been found on 75% of the top million websites. This implies it tracks you almost everywhere on the internet unless you use platforms such as DDG to stop them.
On average, Google Chrome tracks 63.5% of private data, Mozilla Firefox tracks 3.5%, and DDG tracks around 1%. France and Austria have banned Google Analytics, as it exposes restricted data to US agencies. Moreover, Texas has sued Facebook for billions of dollars for collecting facial recognition data from your phone. These instances illustrate the extent to which private data tracking affects our daily lives and highlights the need to take these concerns seriously.
Does Incognito Mode Help?
The incognito mode has been promoted as a solution to privacy concerns. However, your data can still be tracked while using this feature. It only deletes information on your computer but does nothing to stop Google or other companies, including your internet provider, from saving your searches or tracking your data.
Moreover, in 2021, Google was sued in a proposed class action suit that accused the organisation of tracking internet use of millions of users through browsers set in incognito mode.
Conversely, DDG search is entirely anonymous, and you can stay private while browsing search results by using their app and extension.
How Does DuckDuckGo Make Money?
DDG’s revenue model makes money through advertising and affiliate programs with companies like eBay and Amazon.
DDG displays private ads on their search engine to generate revenue. Since it does not collect confidential information, your ads on DDG are based on the search results page you are viewing, not on your private data.
Since advertisers buy search ads by bidding on keywords, this business model makes sense. If you search for ‘computer’, you’re more likely to respond to a computer ad than a result based on your previous week’s search history.
The most prominent search engines in the Western market are Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and DDG. Except for Google, all of them are managed by Microsoft Advertisements. Therefore, if you want to expand into the western markets, relying solely on Google will not be enough. DDG has access to a sophisticated user base that further improves the return on your advertising. Most of the user base consists of middle-aged people who use DDG due to major concerns over online privacy. Additionally, many of these users are loyal, i.e., they use DDG as their exclusive search engine. Moreover, the users are educated, in the medium to a high-income group, making them high-intent customers when it comes to buying decisions. Therefore, if you want to reach already primed, high-intent, and high-income users, DDG is the right platform for you.
Lastly, Microsoft Advertisements provide added benefits for your ads. Unlike Google Ads, Microsoft offers higher transparency - it discloses partners and gives performance reports by domain (Google Ads gives aggregated performance reports). Partners are vetted on Microsoft, whereas any website can apply on Google Ads.
Further, you can use tools to check which websites work for you on Microsoft Ads and exclude sites that do not work well. While managing the Microsoft Partner Network might be more time-consuming, it can be beneficial if done right.
To learn more, watch Nate, our CEO, speak about DuckDuckGo, privacy, and the future of search.