DuckDuckGo’s quest to prove online privacy is possible

Founded in 2008, DuckDuckGo is best known for its search engine. Which means he’s always been defined as a challenger to Google. He didn’t shy away from the comparison. In 2011, Weinberg, then the company’s only employee, ran an ad on a billboard in San Francisco that said, “Google is following you. We don’t.“This branding – Google, but private – served the company well in the years that followed.

“The only way to compete with Google is not to try to compete on search results,” says Brad Burnham, partner of Union Square Ventures, which gave DuckDuckGo its first and only Series A. funding in 2011. When the Upstart was launched, Google already controlled 90% of the market and was spending billions of dollars, and collecting data on billions of users, to make its product even better. DuckDuckGo, however, “offered something that Google couldn’t offer,” Burnham said: “They offered not to follow you. And Google’s entire business model obviously hinges on the ability to do that, so Google doesn’t. couldn’t respond by saying, “OK, we’re not following you either.”

Neither DuckDuckGo nor anyone else has come close to stopping Google from dominating search. Today, Google’s market share still hovers around 90 percent. But the pie is so huge – the advertisers spent $ 60 billion in search engine advertising in the United States alone last year, according to eMarketer, which means there is quite a bit of money in a very small slice. DuckDuckGo has been profitable since 2014.

Like Google Search, DuckDuckGo makes money by selling ads in addition to search results. The difference is that while the ads you see in a Google search typically target you in part based on your past searches, as well as what Google knows about your behavior more broadly, DuckDuckGo’s ads are purely ” contextual ”, that is, they are based only on the search term. It’s because DuckDuckGo doesn’t know anything about you. It does not assign you a username and does not keep track of your search history in order to personalize your results.

However, this non-spooky approach only keeps you safe when you’re on DuckDuckGo. “You are anonymous on the search engine, but once you click on it, you now go to other websites where you are less anonymous,” Weinberg explains. “How can we protect you there?” ”

DuckDuckGo’s first answer to this question was launched in 2018, with the launch of a desktop browser extension and a mobile browser that by default block third-party trackers wherever a user goes on the internet. It was the right time: 2018 was a banner year for privacy awareness. Facebook Cambridge Analytica the scandal broke that spring. the GDPR took effect in Europe, highlighting the lack of regulation of data collection by the United States. That summer, the Associated Press revealed that many Google services store your location data even if you explicitly opt out. Data collection and privacy were firmly in the national conversation. Since, Congress ask for information, antitrust lawsuits, Netflix documentaries, and one growing quarrel between Apple and Facebook kept it there.

“One of the fun things about DuckDuckGo is that the best marketing we’ve ever had has been the goofs that Google and Facebook have made over the years,” says Burnham. “Cambridge Analytica, for example, has been a huge adoption driver for DuckDuckGo. There is a growing awareness of how this business model works and what it means, not only in terms of loss of privacy and agency over our own data, but also what it means for dynamism and the success of an open market.

Awareness is one thing, action is another. DuckDuckGo was able to capitalize on the rising tide of scandals because it has a reputation for making products that work. In 2019, for example, it added a feature of its extension and browser that directs users to encrypted versions of websites where possible, preventing hackers or potential ISPs from looking over your shoulder when you type a password into a page Web. While other encryption tools work by manually creating lists of tens of thousands of websites that need to be upgraded, DuckDuckGo scoured the internet to automatically populate a list of over 12. million sites. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently ad that it would incorporate the DuckDuckGo dataset for its own HTTPS Everywhere extension. Likewise, Apple uses DuckDuckGo Tracking radar dataset — a continuously updated, publicly available tracker list assembled using open source code — for Safari Tracking Prevention.

Weinberg is especially proud of DuckDuckGo’s Tracker Prevention. Monitoring is so built into the web’s infrastructure that many sites will stop functioning if you block all cookies. Take Google Analytics, which is found on the vast majority of websites. “If you block Google Analytics directly, you are breaking sites,” Weinberg says. As a result, mainstream browsers with tracking prevention, like Safari and Firefox, allow trackers to load and then attempt to restrict what data they can collect.

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