DuckDuckGo Search Engine on computer screen

How Anonymous is DuckDuckGo?

Last edited: September 8, 2020
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Summary: How Anonymous is DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo is a search engine that puts your privacy first. It runs on donations and advertising, although any ads they show aren’t personalized. DuckDuckGo has several features that allow you to search the internet more anonymously:

  • It doesn’t store your search history.
  • It blocks third-party trackers on their website.
  • It doesn’t create user profiles.
  • It automatically sends you to the HTTPS version of a website.
  • Its search results are unfiltered.

We recommend using an anonymous search engine like DuckDuckGo if you’d like to guard their online privacy. If you want to take things a step further and protect your online life beyond your search engine, a VPN provides the perfect solution.

Remaining anonymous online is difficult, because websites use your activity to sell their products and services to you. While the most obvious examples are Facebook and Google, there are countless others companies that use your online history to promote themselves.

While this targeted advertising may seem like a good idea when you’re shopping, it can also be exhausting to have something you entered into Google three weeks ago pop up on every website you visit.

DuckDuckGo offers an escape from this targeted advertising and tracked search history. Its streamlined search engine provides users with much needed online privacy. The question is, is this search engine as anonymous as it claims to be? Are there other privacy concerns you need to worry about when using it? Stay with us as we break down everything you need to know about DuckDuckGo in this complete guide.

What is DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is an internet search engine that prioritizes the privacy of the people who use it to find results to their online queries.

One of the biggest selling points of this private engine is that the search results are the same for every user. This means people who use the search engine are shown ads relating only to their current search query. This is in contrast to websites like Google or Facebook, which collect your information to show you ads related to your online activity and search history.

DuckDuckGo was founded in 2008 and comprises a small team of 98 employees located around the world. According to its website, the search engine currently gets 1.9 billion private searches a month. It gets its funding through a combination of donations and advertising. The difference in advertising between this and other search engines is that DuckDuckGo’s ads are based on your search query and not on your online profile.

Who Owns DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo was created by Gabriel Weinberg in 2008. When Gabriel launched the website, he was simply interested in improving on the results Google provided at the time. DuckDuckGo is an incorporated company overseen by investors. Its headquarters are based in Pennsylvania.

The business was self-funded by Gabriel until angel (private) investors and Union Square Ventures started backing in the company in 2011. While the search engine has a number of partnerships with large online companies such as Bing, Wikipedia, and Yahoo, it doesn’t share user information with these companies, as that would be against their own policy.

What is the Difference Between DuckDuckGo and Google?

The main difference between DuckDuckGo and Google is that DuckDuckGo doesn’t track your online activity when displaying search results. DuckDuckGo also has a shortcut feature called !bangs, which allows you to quickly perform searches on other websites such as Amazon, Twitter, or Wikipedia. You can also submit your own custom !bangs for websites you search often.

Of course, DuckDuckGo search doesn’t use any Google products or store your IP address through its service. Its map functionality is provided through Apple Maps. DuckDuckGo also provides “Zero-click Info”, which helps users find the information they’re looking for without needing to click on links.

Less spam, more security

DuckDuckGo tries to remove a lot of the clutter that crowds Google results, including advertisements and spam. It only includes sources with titles and meta descriptions written by humans rather than computers. Official sites are also placed at the top of search results and labelled as such so you can find them more easily.

In their effort to combat spam, DuckDuckGo partnered with Parked Domain Project to crawl the web and eliminate spam from its search results. A lot of these spam websites are still included in Google’s results, but you won’t find them on DuckDuckGo. While Google relies on algorithms to combat spam, DuckDuckGo uses human-powered resources to remove spam websites from its search results.

Should I Start Using DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo is a great choice if you’re looking for an alternative to Google that provides similar search results without aggressive tracking. Moreover, the ability to see more of the information you’re searching for without clicking through to the website is useful when you just want a quick answer. The interface of the search engine provides the information you’re searching for in a user-friendly way. They provide larger text and clickable areas, making it much easier to use.

If you’ve been using Google for years because you thought it was the only option, you should definitely give DuckDuckGo a chance. You might like it better. Not only is it nice to be able to search online without being tracked, but not having to deal with targeted advertising is a breath of fresh air. Besides that, getting away from all of Google’s services is a welcome change. You might even be surprised how useful the Zero-click Info layout is when using the DuckDuckGo search engine.

The Drawbacks of DuckDuckGo

Map with location arrowUsing DuckDuckGo does come with some limitations, especially when compared to Google. One of these downsides is that it uses Apple Maps and Yelp reviews in its local results. This provides just a fraction of the data that Google does, particularly if you want to find information or reviews about a local business. The number of Yelp reviews is simply much lower than the number of reviews on Google, making it hard to rely on the data given by DuckDuckGo when choosing a business based on reviews.

Another downside of using DuckDuckGo is that it has a lower crawl budget than Google. This means that your search results will likely be less comprehensive than on Google. Some of the advanced features you miss out on when using DuckDuckGo include the “People Also Ask” and “Related Searches” sections on Google. The real-time tracking feature of Google Maps is also absent.

Having your data tracked online can be scary, but does come with certain benefits. A more convenient search engine is better able to predict what you’re trying to find, for example. There’s no doubt that using Google saves time. This conflict between privacy and convenience needs to be balanced. To solve it, many people use a combination both search engines depending on what they need.

How Does DuckDuckGo Protect Your Privacy?

Search engines like Google and Bing store your history on their servers, but DuckDuckGo doesn’t. Using other, less private, search engines often means your information will be stored on their servers remotely.

This information includes the search terms you use, the websites you clicked on, and the date and time you performed the search. They also store data about your IP address and which operating system and browser you use. That’s a lot of information that could be used in whatever way the company decides to use it.

The biggest reason for people to use DuckDuckGo is that it protects your privacy because it doesn’t store any of this data. There are several ways in which DuckDuckGo protects your personal information. We’ve summed up the most important ones below. Check out DuckDuckGo’s privacy page for more information.

No stored search history

Unlike other search engines, DuckDuckGo doesn’t store your search history. This means no one can access your past searches from its servers. However, your browser might still save the pages you visited. This means your search history, while private through DuckDuckGo, could still be available through your browser settings.

Of course, your ISP will also have access to your IP address and search history unless you invest in a VPN to protect yourself while browsing online.

No third-party trackers

Eye on LaptopDuckDuckGo also attempts to protect your privacy by blocking advertising trackers. These trackers are the reason you may see ads popping up online after you’ve performed a search through Google or Bing. They basically collect information about you through your web browsing history.

Most people are very wary of third-party trackers, because they can be active on a website without you knowing it. They then use your information to try and get you to perform certain actions. This includes buying a product or signing up for a service. Using DuckDuckGo in combination with a reliable VPN is one of the best ways to stay clear of third-party trackers.

No profiles

Most search engines create a profile on you based on your online behavior, search history, age, gender, IP address, and browser cookies. This means your identity can be linked to the sites you visit and the searches you complete on their engines. DuckDuckGo doesn’t create profiles like this, which gives you the added privacy that most other search engines don’t provide.

Encrypted search data

Unlike its competitors, DuckDuckGo will automatically send you on to the HTTPS version of any website you click in their search results. This gives you just that little bit of extra security while browsing online.

Unfiltered results

When you use a search engine for a long time, you may start seeing the same information over and over again. This is because the algorithm is giving you the data it thinks you want to see rather than what everyone else sees when they perform the same search. This filtering could mean that you’re missing out on other information that’s available online.

DuckDuckGo doesn’t store any information that could influence your results page in this way. In other words, you’ll get the same search results as everyone else searching for the same term.

How to Safely Use DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is one of the safest search engines you can use online. Because of its commitment to the privacy of its users, we strongly advise anyone to use it when searching for something online.

If you’re unsure about using DuckDuckGo or want to protect your privacy further, you can always invest in a VPN provider. A VPN will alter your IP address and encrypt your online data, making you more anonymous online. The advantage of using a VPN with DuckDuckGo is that you’ll be able to enjoy the privacy protection of the search engine as well as the flexibility of a VPN to unlock online content from all over the world.

Another reason why using a VPN might be useful, is that it will protect you beyond the reach of any search engine. While the DuckDuckGo website protects your privacy, you’ll be subjected to the policies of any website you might visit once you leave the search engine. A VPN will ensure your personal information and privacy are more secure. Unless you willingly choose to give away your personal information, for example by logging in on a website or by allowing tracking cookies to be placed, neither the websites nor your ISP will know what you’re doing on the internet.

DuckDuckGo Alternatives

While DuckDuckGo offers an improvement on Google when it comes to privacy, it isn’t going to be the perfect search engine for everyone. Just like there are alternatives to Google, such as Bing and Yahoo, there are also other options for people who are looking for private search engines.

Some of the most popular options include Search Encrypt, Startpage and Qwant. Each of these search engines provides you with a private browsing experience while protecting their data.

Search Encrypt

Search Encrypt LogoSearch Encrypt keeps searches private by encrypting your search term locally before transmitting it to their secure servers. Once you’re done with your search, the encryption key for the term expires, meaning it’ll disappear forever.

Moreover, Search Encrypt has a browser feature that prevents your browser from saving your search history: it automatically expires and disappears. This search engine also forces SSL encryption, just like DuckDuckGo. Lastly, Search Encrypt doesn’t use any tracking software on its search engine.

Startpage

Startpage claims it’s the world’s most private search engine. It protects its users’ privacy by not storing any personal information. This search engine also doesn’t share information with third parties and has a useful proxy feature that further protects your personal information such as your IP address.

A big advantage of Startpage is that it incorporates Google’s results. This means the Startpage search engine is able to give users a blend of the benefits of a private search engine along with the familiarity of traditional Google results.

Qwant

Qwant LogoQwant doesn’t track your searches or store your private information for advertising. This search engine has a feature similar to DuckDuckGo’s !bangs. This feature, Qwick Search, provides you with shortcuts you can use on websites on which you often find yourself using the search function. There are a number of useful filter options you can use while searching with Qwant. These will help you find the right results more quickly.

Conclusion: Privacy Protection at a Cost

The battle between convenience and privacy is an ongoing one for a lot of users of search engines. Should you use Google for the comprehensive results and extra features? Or is it better to work with DuckDuckGo for the privacy it provides? For a lot of people, it’s going to be a mix of both.

While the organic search results for basic queries are going to be similar for both websites, it’s the features that make a difference. This includes real-time traffic updates, more detailed local results, and extra results features.

DuckDuckGo does a lot of things right, especially when it comes to privacy and protecting your data. However, Google has the extra features and bigger crawl budget. Which search engine is best for you, depends on what you prioritize at the time.

DuckDuckGo: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most common questions asked about DuckDuckGo. Simply click a question to view your answer.

If you use an iPhone or Android device, the DuckDuckGo browser is available for smartphones. Simply search for DuckDuckGo in your App/Play Store and download the application. Then you’ll be able to use the browser to search on your phone and visit websites through the app. The browser window also shows you which third-party trackers it blocked.

Unfortunately, DuckDuckGo  doesn’t currently have a private browser that works on desktop. You can, however, adjust your browser settings so the homepage and search bar are both set to DuckDuckGo. This will give you the search privacy of DuckDuckGo while using your browser.

While you can use any browser with DuckDuckGo, there are certain options that will value your privacy more than others. Some of the most popular choices when it comes to privacy-sensitive browsers include the Tor browser, Firefox, and Brave.

Some browsers you should avoid if you want your personal information to be kept private are Edge, Chrome, Opera, and Safari. Each of these browsers track your search history and collect your personal information as you use them online.

You can use any VPN you like with DuckDuckGo and should probably do so if you’re concerned about your online privacy or want more online freedom. We always recommend anyone who frequently uses the internet to use a VPN, so their personal information is protected while online.

You can set DuckDuckGo as the default search engine in your browser’s settings. You can also adjust the search bar action on your browser so it defaults to DuckDuckGo. This means that, each time you enter a search in your browser bar, it’ll go through DuckDuckGo instead of Google or Bing.

Whether a switch from your current search engine to DuckDuckGo is worth it, comes down to your personal preferences. If you have no problem with invasive personalized advertising or prefer your current search engine’s result interface, it might not be worth the switch.

However, using a search engine that values your privacy can be very beneficial. If you really want to protect your online privacy, we’d definitely recommend it. Of course, this also means investing in a VPN service alongside switching to a more secure browser.

While DuckDuckGo doesn’t track your search history, it doesn’t hide it either. You can still access your search history through your browser’s history settings. There are alternative search engines that hide your search history in your browser settings such as Search Encrypt.

Using !bangs to search on specific websites is easy. Simply go to the DuckDuckGo search engine and type an exclamation point, followed by a shortcode assigned to the website you wish to search. For Wikipedia, for example, you would type in !w. Follow this up with your search term.

Some other popular !bangs shortcodes are:

  • !yt (YouTube)
  • !gmail (Gmail)
  • !gm (Google Maps)
  • !a (Amazon)
  • !reddit (Reddit)

You can also submit your own !bangs shortcodes to DuckDuckGo for websites that might be missing from the list.

If you don’t want to see any advertisements in the search results on DuckDuckGo, you can turn them off in your general settings. This means you’ll see only organic results when you perform a search, instead of the top of page advertisements you’d typically find on Google and other search engines.

Privacy Essentials is an extension by DuckDuckGo that protects your data as you browse websites online. It does this by attempting to block hidden trackers and highlight poor privacy practices through the extension. Privacy Essentials also takes you to encrypted versions of websites when possible.

Another feature of this extension is that they include scores and labels of website terms of service and privacy policies. This feature is possible because of their partnership with Terms of Service Didn’t Read.

Tech writer
Brad is a digital marketing specialist with years of hands-on experience working in the industry. When he's not working Brad spends his time with his young daughter and wife. Some of his hobbies include video games, reading, writing, and travelling.

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