A few weeks ago, I did something that might seem vaguely unpatriotic: I set the default search in my laptop’s browser to something besides Google.
This wasn’t my first extended usage ofDuckDuckGo, a privacy-optimized alternative to the omnipresent Alphabet, Inc., (GOOG,GOOGL) search engine that long ago became a verb. DuckDuck Go prides itself on not tracking users and started getting attention after Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread government internet surveillance. Now, that non-Google search sits at the center of my browsing experience on one of the computers I use most often.
Should you follow my example? Maybe not! DuckDuckGo works fine as an everyday search tool, but it sometimes requires an extra click and doesn’t help much with digging up pages from the past. But you should at least consider whether you must use the same search tool as almost everybody else all the time.
It’s fine, really
Google’s ubiquity makes it easy to forget how often search is, or at least ought to be, a commodity product: You either want a specific page or basic info about a topic, and any decent search site should surface them equally well. I’ve realized that each time I’ve typed a search into DuckDuckGo, then plugged the same query into Google.
When I need to locate one page, DuckDuckGo almost always surfaces it as well as Google. And when I inquire about a particular subject, DuckDuckGo’s links provide the same overall info, even if they don’t feature the same first link or two.
(One disturbing exception: DuckDuckGo’s results for “globalist” once led off with propaganda for that frequently anti-Semitic trope, while Google’s start with a story explaining that slur’s origins.)
Google’s advantage is supposed to be its personalized search, which DuckDuckGo lacks—you can’t even create a user account there.
You still see ads above your searches,syndicated through Yahoo, (Yahoo Finance’s parent company) but they only targeted the search terms you typed, not any profile based on your search history or your activity elsewhere. It’s refreshing to punch in a query, no matter how silly or stupid, and know that it won’t go on my permanent record—no need to remember to usea browser’s incognito mode.
Profits but not scale
In the search market at large, DuckDuckGo remains a flyspeck. StatCounter’s numbers show Google retains86.17% of the total U.S. business and90% of mobile; DuckDuckGo’s shares are 0.77% and 0.66%, respectively, well below the single-digit fractions of Yahoo and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Bing. Worldwide, DuckDuckGo ranks behind China’s Baidu and Russia’s Yandex.
But this Paoli, Penn., firm turns a profit and has done so since 2014, CEO Gabriel Weinberg said in an e-mail. He did not specify revenue or income numbers beyond noting that DuckDuckGo is “subject to the California Consumer Privacy Act, which means we have over $25 million in yearly revenue.” That strict privacy law, modeled afterthe European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation,goes into effect in 2020.
Weinberg said DuckDuckGo’s growth “has actually been higher on mobile than desktop,” to which he partly credited its shipping a new private-browsing mobile app.
DuckDuckGo can show results from the last day, week or month, but that’s it—making it unhelpful for finding something I wrote in 2011 but not later pieces on the same subject. For that I have to return to Google (or use Bing). As a result, I’ve found myself favoring Google for work, where having a search history accessible can save time.
On my phone, meanwhile, it’s not as convenient to alternate between browsers as I do on the desktop. DuckDuckGo offers no competition to Google in navigation, and neither do other options. The rewrite Apple (AAPL) has promised for Apple Maps mayfinally let it catch up with Google Maps—but that won’t help me on my Android phone.
But giving some of your search business to somebody besides the No. 1 firm still holds value. In a world of security vulnerabilities and data breaches, you can help secure your data bynot keeping too much of it in any one place.