Search engine – A different view

Most of us will be doing a search in the internet for almost everything that comes to mind. If you’re the one who does so, it’s very likely you’ll be using a search engine for that matter. Though there are more than one search engine available, you will be using Google search engine for an internet search.

Google is one of the world’s largest companies. Though they have a wide spread of products traversed into many areas of our lives, they are still best known for their search engine. The phrase “You can just google that” emphasizes it. But there is one thing that you should keep in mind when you’re “googling” for information. To keep their services free, Google records a staggering amount of data about your online habits. Google in turn uses this data for targeted advertising – which obviously is Google’s primary source of income.

If you’re looking for a privacy focused alternative to Google search, then you should get your hands dirty with DuckDuckGO. The tag line of DDG describes as “the search engine that doesn’t track you”. For those who want to take anonymity a step further, TOR browser users are presented with DDG search results by default. If you’re the one familiar with TOR browser and the .onion TLD in the Dark Web, you might have used DDG there. I have mentioned about DDG very briefly in my earlier post on Dark Web

Most search engines collect and store search data, but google link that data to your account. This collected information is used to personalize your search results. That’s how Google show you targeted advertising. But on the other hand DDG doesn’t track you and opts not to personalize your search results. DDG focuses on search result quality over quantity.

DuckDuckGo has grown steadily since its inception in 2008, sky rocketing from an average of 79000 daily searches in 2010 to a 40 million million daily and stands at a whopping 30 billion searches as of this writing. They partnered with many Linux distributions and have native apps for both Android and iOS. DuckDuckGo also is a search provider on most mainstream browsers which gained traction to them, 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.

Most of you will be wondering about the profitability of the company behind DuckDuckGo. We know that DuckDuckGo was first launched in 2008 which was done by it’s 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. 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. nlike 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.

Privacy Policy
Their clearly written Privacy Policy also makes for reassuring reading, providing detail on the small amount of information they do collect. The key takeaways are that they do not store IP addresses or unique User-Agent identification and will set a cookie only for saving site settings.

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.”

Open Source
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.

Donations to Privacy
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.

Beyond Search
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.

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.

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.

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.

Before we conclude, a simple demo of the googles targeted advertisement is illustrated below. This will help you understand things better about how Google is tracking you right from your very first search, even in incognito mode.

Open Google Chrome in incognito mode: Now search something like Stock Market:

Now what you have to do is remove the “Stock Market” keyword from the search bar and place something random like how, when, what, why, etc. and look at the suggestions.

You can even try with some random words like Best, King, Joke etc.

The Google Search tries to manipulate the suggestions in order to engage you more and more with the topic you were looking for. This is just the beginning how Google can manipulate your search behaviors, which results in loss of time and information bombardment as well. There are many more ways how Google is using your personal data.

On the other hand DDG doesn’t behaves like above, we’ll now do the same exercise with DuckDuckGo and you can visualize the difference.

DuckDuckGo proves us that user privacy and usefulness aren’t mutually exclusive. Isn’t it an 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.

If you do decide to stick with Google, take a look at the ways to customize your Google Search results.

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