Online tracking can be unpleasant. You spend five minutes searching for a pair of shoes, and then ads for those exact shoes follow you for the next several weeks. Sometimes, you want a little privacy in your online experience. Enter DuckDuckGo: a search engine that promises to keep your search activity anonymous and not tracked online.
There are other private browsers, such as Brave, that block trackers and third-party cookies that monitor your activity as you search the web. But DuckDuckGo — which has increasingly invested in an advertising campaign — sees itself as a direct competitor to Google Search, complete with mobile apps and extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and other browsers.
After major events like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, people have become more aware of how much personal information is available to tech companies and advertisers – and are getting out of track when they can, because Apple’s iOS 14.5 allows you to do this. While it doesn’t track users, DuckDuckGo’s app has been downloaded more than 50 million times in the past year alone — more than all other years. joint Since its launch 13 years ago.
Here’s what you need to know about DuckDuckGo and how it works to keep your searches more secure.
What is DuckDuckGo?
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that offers a mobile browser app and a desktop extension, both of which aim to allow you to browse the Internet without companies grabbing your personal data. It promises to keep your searches private, anonymous and offers built-in tracker blocking, so the sites you visit have a hard time collecting information about you.
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How does DuckDuckGo work?
For starters, DuckDuckGo doesn’t track searches made through its browser extension or mobile app. Other browsers, including Chrome, allow you to use private or incognito windows that don’t track your search history, but their default windows do. (That’s the basis of every “embarrassing search history” joke.) Instead of navigating you to a different version of its app, DuckDuckGo never tracks your search history.
Searches done through DuckDuckGo also automatically connect you to encrypted versions of websites wherever possible, making it harder for anyone else to see what you’re looking for online. This is another scenario where both options (encrypted and unencrypted) exist on other search engines, but the default is not always the privacy-friendly option. DuckDuckGo saves you the extra steps of manually navigating over an encrypted connection.
DuckDuckGo was criticized in May when researchers using DuckDuckGo’s browser discovered some Microsoft tracking scripts. The presence of Microsoft trackers seemed to fly in the face of the search engine’s privacy promise, and the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo clarified on Reddit that the company was “currently contractually restricted by Microsoft” to prevent Microsoft scripts from being fully loaded. That’s because the company uses Microsoft’s Bing to power its search results. However, the company announced in August that it would further restrict Microsoft trackers in its browser.
However, DuckDuckGo stays ahead of other popular privacy options when it comes to blocking tracking data, and the company has clarified its App Store description to better illustrate the limitations in its privacy protections. DuckDuckGo previously disclosed its partnership with Microsoft, and its CEO said in a Reddit post that the company is working to change that restriction.
DuckDuckGo also actively blocks external trackers from following you online. For a more detailed explanation of DuckDuckGo’s privacy features, see DuckDuckGo’s blog.
The DuckDuckGo search engine places an emphasis on privacy.
Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET
How is DuckDuckGo different from Google Search? What about Incognito Mode and Private Browsing?
DuckDuckGo essentially takes the opposite approach compared to other big tech companies like Google and Facebook, which have traditionally made money by targeting ads based on your browsing history and personal data. While Google has said it’s going to stop the practice, the platform still collects a ton of data about you, including your location and search activity — yes, even in incognito mode.
Incognito Mode simply removes information related to your browsing session from your computer: your history, cookies and any information you enter in the fields. Notably, it does this only after you end your session by closing all your tabs. So even if you leave your Incognito tab open for hours or days at a time, that information will remain. No matter what, Google can save your searches — and companies, Internet service providers, and governments can still track you across the Internet, even when you’re using Incognito Mode.
DuckDuckGo is different because it doesn’t store your browsing data at all, and it blocks trackers while you browse.
When you first use DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser, the app will guide you through the different ways you can protect your privacy.
Screenshot from Adam Benjamin/CNET
If it’s not targeting ads, how does DuckDuckGo make money?
DuckDuckGo still makes money from advertising — it doesn’t just use targeted ads. The search engine shows you ads based on the keywords you search for, which are not tied to your personal data such as your browsing or purchase history. Essentially, you’ll only see ads for what you’re currently looking for, not for that weird product your friend sent you a link to last week that you can no longer get away from.
How can I use DuckDuckGo?
On mobile devices, simply open your App Store and search for “DuckDuckGo.” You will be able to download the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser app and use it the same way you would Chrome or Safari. In the bottom center of your app, you’ll see a fire icon, which you can press at any time to close all your tabs and clear all personal data.
On desktop, go to duckduckgo.com, where you’ll see a button to add DuckDuckGo to your browser. On Chrome, you will be directed to the Chrome Webstore page to download the extension for free. On Safari, you’ll be instructed how to set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine or activate the search manually using DuckDuckGo.
For more information on online privacy, check out the browser privacy settings you should change now, how to stop your iPhone apps from tracking you, and the best password managers of 2021.