DuckDuckGo : A private alternative to Google search

Recently it was revealed that Google services track your location, even if you’ve explicitly told them not to. This seems troubling to me.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the terms of service that companies such as Google employ leave you little recourse. If you don’t like it, tough.

Using these services can paint a pretty comprehensive portrait of who you are. Here are just a few examples:
·      Maps & Location history – every place you visit, and how often
·      Mail – the contents of all your Gmail e-mails can be harvested for personal information and used to target ads to you
·      Calendar – a synopsis of everything you do
·      Contacts – Who you communicate with
·      Drive – all your personal documents
·      Youtube – what you are interested in
·      Hangouts – what you look like and sound like
·      Photos – what you like to do

The last one I’ll note, and of course the big one, is search. If you really want to get to know someone, it has been said, view their search history.

The old argument “if I don’t have anything to hide, why worry?” will be the fallback position of many when confronted with this reality. This is a flawed argument.

If you have nothing to hide, why not post your taxes online? Why do public bathrooms require private stalls; are you hiding something? What about the contents of private phone calls, should those be publicly available for scrutinizing? Of course not.

It’s not necessarily that you have anything to hide, it’s that you don’t want people knowing your business.

Which brings me to DuckDuckGo. I learned about it when I read that they had raised US$10M by a group of investors led by Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS). It holds itself out as the anti-Google: it doesn’t track you. Ever.

Screenshot from DuckDuckGo.

Well, that’s refreshing. Instead of all my search queries being recorded and linked to a detailed advertising profile that has been created on my behalf, I just get search results.

You will still be served ads on DuckDuckGo. If you search for ‘televisions’ you may be served advertisements for TVs, but that’s logical. The search engine is still a business, and a profitable one at that. It has to generate revenues somehow. The major difference, though, is that my search history won’t be saved indefinitely.

I thought I’d give this a try. I switched my web browser to Firefox first (from Google Chrome), so that I had the option of removing my web browsing from the Google ecosystem entirely. Then I set my default search engine in Firefox to DuckDuckGo.

It’s been several weeks now, and I’ve barely noticed any difference in the quality of search results versus Google. When I get frustrated searching for something, I enter the same query into Google search and many of the results are the same or similar. DuckDuckGo is very good.

It’s important to point out that I don’t think Google is necessarily doing anything nefarious with my personal information, I just don’t like the fact that all the data they collect is available at all. Just as Facebook wasn’t trying to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the data they had on their users was scraped by Cambridge Analytica, which was ultimately used by Russian operatives in an effort to influence the election results. This is just one example of how this information can be misused.

If you genuinely want privacy on the internet, switching to DuckDuckGo is just a first step. You will have to extricate yourself from a lot of free and convenient services, where you are the product and the advertisers are the customers. However, it is an easy first step, and you probably won’t notice much of a difference in how you search online.

by Rick Sturch


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