Last month, privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo achieved a significant milestone in the more than 12 years since its creation – its daily search queries reached 100 million for the first time.
This breakthrough for DuckDuckGo also happened within the same timeframe as to when encrypted-messaging app Signal reported that they too experienced a significant influx of new users. In the midst of questionable data privacy policies from various platforms, are people becoming more concern about protecting their data?
“For example, when you search for something private, you are sharing that private search not only with your search engine but also with all the sites that you clicked on (for that search). In addition, when you visit any site, your computer automatically sends information about it to that site (including your User agent and IP address). This information can often be used to identify you directly”, DuckDuckGo explains.
DuckDuckGo prevents such search leakage by default. According to them, when a user clicks on a link on DuckDuckGo’s site, they route (redirect) that request in such a way so that it does not send your search terms to other sites. The other sites will still know that you visited them, but they will not know what search you entered beforehand.
DuckDuckGo also suggests that if you want to prevent sites from knowing you visited them at all, you can use a proxy browser like Tor.
In addition, DuckDuckGo also minimises the risks in your data, as typical search engines store your search history. Usually, your searches are saved along with the date and time of the search, some information about your computer (e.g. your IP address, user agent and often a unique identifier stored in a browser cookie) and if you are logged in, your account information (e.g. name and email address).
According to DuckDuckGo, if search engines have your information, it could get out, even if they have the best intentions - and this information (your search history) can be personal. As such, DuckDuckGo finds it best to not collect any personal information at all.
At DuckDuckGo, no cookies are used by default. The search engine is also free and open source, allowing data practitioners to see if DuckDuckGo is really keeping its word regarding data privacy. It is also available on mobile, enabling more users to utilise the app.
With all these features prioritising privacy, however, the peak of 100 million DuckDuckGo searches is still a long way behind big search engines like Google, which the majority has been accustomed to. In fact, Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day.
Privacy-focused companies such as DuckDuckGo and Signal offer many promises, but it will still be a long way to go before the vast majority of users will migrate to these alternative platforms. As such, it would be interesting to see if they will be the new norms in the future or if big companies will adhere to users’ demands in protecting their data instead.