Do you like privacy? Do you shun surveillance and eschew spam? Do you like simplicity? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’ll love DuckDuckGo.
DuckDuckGo is the brainchild of everyday American Gabriel Weinberg, and until news of the National Security Agency’s widespread spying program broke last month, it was a baby brainchild. But as the country learned about PRISM and the government’s “direct access” to the servers of companies like Google, Weinberg and company sat back and watched their traffic skyrocket. DuckDuckGo, after all, is the only search engine that promises not to track its users and even offer them complete anonymity. Its search results are pretty good too!
What’s funny about DuckDuckGo, an apparently vigilant internet freedom fighter, is that its privacy features came almost as an afterthought. “I kind of backed into that,” Weinberg told The Guardian this week. “It’s hard to define my politics. I take every issue seriously and come to my own conclusion.”
And suddenly, millions of people are taking the issue of privacy online seriously, too. After The Guardian broke the PRISM story on June 6, every day was a record-breaking one at DuckDuckGo, and by mid-July, the site was fielding 3 million search queries a day, almost double the number from the beginning of June. Weinberg says that the spike in traffic was purely word of mouth, buoyed by a few press mentions. “Our users know that we don’t track and were telling their friends and family,” he said.
There’s more where that came from. With each wave of new visitors comes thousands more who realise that Google is not the only option for search along with the realisation that Google collects and stores boatloads of data about you. Oh, and Google shares that data with the government without your knowledge or consent, too, by the way.
If this sounds like something you don’t want to be a part of, start searching on DuckDuckGo. Since DuckDuckGo uses some 50 sources — including Bing, Yahoo! and Wolfram Alpha — for its search queries, you’ll get results that look similar to what Google returns. DuckDuckGo even improves on traditional search engines in some ways; it combs through results, pulling out irrelevant links and spam and content farm fodder so that its returns are good and clean. Meanwhile, an anonymous search option uses Tor to route your query through a series of encrypted relays. You can even do voice search with a new-ish Google Chrome extension.
There are shortcomings, like the lack of an autocomplete feature. And as a general search engine, DuckDuckGo also won’t give you results that are as precise as they’d be if you used a vertical search like the ones on Amazon, Facebook and YouTube. But don’t worry: DuckDuckGo has thought of this, and has a solution that it calls Bang. You can redirect your search to specific sites by adding codes like “!amazon,” “!fb,” “!yt” and so forth to your search query. You can even ape Google result for result; just add “!g” to the search, and DuckDuckGo will run an encrypted (read: anonymous) Google search for you.
So that’s DuckDuckGo. If you’ve heard of it but haven’t tried it yet, give it a shot. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re welcome. Here’s your chance to keep your data away from the spies and the advertisers. while still getting great search results. And best of all, you’ll look very hip and with it when your friends see you using a slick-looking search engine they’ve never heard of.