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Should users trust DuckDuckGo?

Atam Gits at ZeroHedge in an article about Google whistleblower Zach Vorhies suggests that people switch from Google to DuckDuckGo and provides some fairly persuasive reasons why:

What DuckDuckGo does that Google does not

DuckDuckGo is a different kind of search engine, especially when compared to Google. Here are some of the things that DuckDuckGo does or does not when compared to Google:

  • It does not store the IP addresses of its users
  • DuckDuckGo does not log any user-related information, only keyword-related information
  • For a given keyword, it returns the same search results to all users
  • DuckDuckGo does not share data about a user’s search keywords with the websites that they visit as a result of their search
  • It includes data from a compilation of over 400 sources, including Bing, Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia, Yahoo!, its own web crawler, called the DuckDuckBot, and many others.
  • It uses cookies only when needed
  • It relies on many open-source technologies and projects to provide you with private search results
  • It is run by a small team of people. At the time of writing this article, they were fewer than 50 people

The benefits of using DuckDuckGo, for users

DuckDuckGo offers a couple of important benefits that search engines like Google do not:

  • User privacy. There is no personal information collected and stored about users. There is no search history stored for you as a user. As a result, if governments or institutions like the police, request data about you from DuckDuckGo, there is no data to be shared with them.
  • It prevents search leakage. The websites that you visit from DuckDuckGo do not know what you searched for, to get to them.
  • Direct contact with the developer team. DuckDuckGo has a small team behind it, and it relies on its user community to improve steadily. If you want to, you can provide feedback to DuckDuckGo, by going to their community website. You can contribute by submitting translations, features ideas, bug reports, etc.
  • Transparency about how it works and how it treats users. If you want to know their history and evolution, where their team is based, how to access their community and read their up-to-date privacy policy, go to this page: About DuckDuckGo.

While I fairly regularly use DuckDuckGo as the lesser of evils when doing English language tech searches, I’m not convinced DuckDuckGo is as safe as Gits suggests.

As a US-based company (headquartered in San Francisco), DuckDuckGo subject to the Patriot Act and all its successors. I.e. whether the CEO wants to or not, DDG must share data with the CIA and NSA and other alphabet soup agencies on request and say nothing about it. Even if DuckDuckGo is not actively co-operating, technically it’s a fairly simple process to set up an upstream router and track all the incoming requests and IP’s for search. If DuckDuckGo isn’t cooperating it does mean the NSA would have to crack https encryption or have insider help in the data center. Not a particularly tall order for the most sophisticated hacking organisation on our green earth.

If you don’t want to be tracked, I’d recommend trying a European search engine like French or German (which mirrors Bing results without tracking and plants trees on the profits: you wondered if Germans are nuts, yes they are). Or even The Russians don’t really care what you or I search for.

None of the current search engines are particularly good, as Google has the best technology but is now skewing results all over the place for propaganda purposes and none of the others can really handle international search particularly well. DuckDuckGo is still the best of the alternatives for English language search. Expect okay results, just don’t expect privacy.

Photo credit Ali Hajian, unsplash license.
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