DuckDuckGo is a search engine that takes an aggressive position against tracking people online, emphasizes protecting searchers privacy, and avoiding filter bubbles that result from the personalized search results that Google delivers.
With 3.5 billion daily searches, Google is still the undeniable market leader in search, but some cracks are starting to appear. In 2017, nearly 700,000 new users connected to the internet every day. That’s a quarter billion new users each year, all with search queries that need answering. Despite this continual growth in demand, Google has experienced a continuous decrease in search volume over the same period of time.
Meanwhile, DuckDuckGo has experienced a 50% increase in searches over the last year. So, what makes DuckDuckGo so special?
Security Features of DuckDuckGo
Coming up with a strong password to protect your digital crown jewels can be a daunting task. Many people use passwords that are easy to guess and even easier for a computer to crack. If passwords like “123456,” “letmein,” “password1,” and “hello” are familiar to you, you may want to try DuckDuckGo’s password generator.
Simply visit DuckDuckGo and search for “Password 20”. This search will deliver you a 20-character long password. If you want your password to be longer or shorter, you can replace the number 20 in your search to change the number of characters generated for your password.
If remembering long strings of nonsense numbers and letters isn’t your thing, DuckDuckGo has another great password generation tool for you. Simply type “random passphrase” into the search query. DuckDuckGo will generate a four phrase long password that is both secure and easy to remember.
“enforced marbles crane velocity” is much easier to remember than “fqFeAoDwYTSvLhm7vezA” and still incredibly difficult for a computer to crack.
Clicking a shortened URL like a bit.ly or a goo.gl is always risky. Hackers create legitimate-looking short URLs to obscure the target website and lure a victim to scam pages in a phishing attempt or spam pages containing malware. If you come across a shortened URL that you want to follow, it’s always a good idea to look at its origin before following the link.
DuckDuckGo has a solution for this, type “expand” in the search bar, followed by the URL in question. DuckDuckGo will then reveal the ultimate destination that the URL is referencing.
Privacy Features of DuckDuckGo
Search Leakage Prevention
When you conduct a search and click on a link using most search engines, the terms you use to search are disclosed to the website that you clicked on. If you’re searching for something private, you’re sharing that private search with your search engine as well as all of the websites you visit from that search. This sharing of personal information is called “search leakage.”
On top of this, whenever you visit any website, your computer automatically sends information to it (user agent & IP address) that can be used to identify you specifically.
DuckDuckGo has a variety of ways to prevent this search leakage from occurring.
By default when you click a link on their site, they redirect your request in a way that doesn’t send your search terms to other sites. This means that the sites you visit will know that you visited them but not what you were searching for to find them.
Using a proxy like Tor will prevent sites from knowing you visited them at all. DuckDuckGo operates a Tor exit node which ensures end-to-end anonymous and encrypted searching. You can also type “!proxy + a web address” and they will route you through a proxy.
There are drawbacks to this though. Proxies can be slow, free proxies tend to be funded by advertisements, and if you’re using this at work, your network policies may prohibit access to Proxies.
Using a POST request is another option to prevent search leakage. POST requests must be turned on in your DuckDuckGo settings. Before you toggle on POST requests you should that your back button likely won’t work when using POST requests.
DuckDuckGo’s browser extension has a great feature built-in to help you evaluate how protected your privacy is on different websites. They create privacy scores for sites based on if they host major tracking networks, have clear and fair privacy policies, and if their connection is encrypted.
Here, I used the tool to compare the privacy of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Search History Anonymity
Not only does this preserve your privacy but it also prevents filter bubbles that occur when you’re fed personalized search results based on your past preferences.
Most search engines save your search history along with the date and time of the search, information about your computer (including IP address, user agent, and an identifying cookie), plus your account information (including email and full name).
All of this information can be publicized due to negligence, court order, or a hacker. While participating in research, AOL accidentally released the searches of more than half a million users when they failed to anonymize the data correctly. The privacy policies on search engines tell you that they will give your information to law enforcement when mandated by court order.
While DuckDuckGo is subject to the same laws that mandate search engines to turn over user information to law enforcement, they aren’t obligated to collect user information in the first place. So they don’t.
Hackers can’t steal data they don’t have, DuckDuckGo can’t accidentally leak information they never saved, and since the data isn’t collected, it also can’t be disclosed to law enforcement.
DuckDuckGo vs Other Search Engines
|Search Engine||Company||Year Launched||Advertisements?|
|Bing||Microsoft||1998 / 2009||Yes|
|Search Engine||Server Location||Tor Gateway Available||Internet Censorship|
|Baidu||China||No||Yes – China|
|Bing||USA / China||No||Yes – China|
|USA||No||Yes – Argentina / China|
|Yahoo!||USA||No||Yes – Argentina|
|Search Engine||IP Tracking||Information Sharing||Warrantless Wiretapping of Unencrypted Backend Traffic|
|Bing||Yes||Yes||Yes, up to and including 2014|
|Yes||Yes||Yes, up to and including 2013|
|Yahoo!||Yes||Yes||Yes, up to and including 2014|