Taking on Google’s near-monopoly online search
Organisation URL: duckduckgo.com
DuckDuckGo is a plucky little Philadelphia start-up doing the unthinkable: taking on Google’s near-monopoly online search.
The 20-strong team’s key, though not sole differential is privacy: unlike Google, DuckDuckGo neither collects nor shares information, calling itself ‘the search engine that doesn’t track you'. It also has fewer ads and spam and doesn’t cross-promote services.
The site launched in 2008 and by June 2013 it was conducting 2m searches daily. By September, after Snowden’s revelations over the National Security Agency, that figure was at 4m, and it answered 1bn search queries in 2013 overall. It now has some big angel investors behind it, has just been redesigned to look sleeker and with new features, and is the default search engine for Linux Mint 12, Trisquel, Midori and Gnome. It is also a preinstalled option for Apple’s iOS8 and OS X Yosemite.
Founder Gabriel Weinberg first set out to build a search engine that was better than Google. He developed an ‘instant answers’ facility that provides an immediate and direct answer to your search, gleaned from the 50 top web sources such as Wikipedia, IMDb and Bing, built as plug-ins by its own open-source community DuckDuckHack, instead of just providing a list of links to third-party websites. You can also choose to opt entirely out of answers that are linked to commerce or shopping.
But Weinberg, an MIT MSc in tech and policy who sold an earlier business, the Names Database, for $10m in 2006, is under no illusions that it’s the uncompromising stance on privacy that is powering his site’s 200-500% average annual growth: ‘The data you share with your search engine is the most personal data [including, for instance, financial or medical problems]. You don’t hold back. I have a philosophical opposition to search engines that are set up to collect the maximal, not the minimal amount of information. This is not a fad. I think that as people find out about [tracking and surveillance more] they're going to be wanting to opt out.’
The site’s business model is refreshingly straightforward: it sells ads against searches. Answers can still be localised, so information is meaningful (where to get a pizza nearby, for instance) without the engine knowing who you are, using cookies, or saving search histories. This also removes the so-called ‘filter bias’ you get with Google’s personalisation: DuckDuckGo won’t privilege content they think you’ll like or agree with. You can also use it with Tor for turbo-encryption.
Logo courtesy of DuckDuckGo
Last updated: 19th of September, 2014