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A Better Search Experience With DuckDuckGo

For most people, Google is synonymous with search. The word google is literally an accepted verb. However, an increasing number of people are exploring alternatives (1, 2). Some people are noticing a decrease in the quality of their search results. Others have privacy and monopoly concerns.

If you are ready for something different, you should try DuckDuckGo.

Origin Story

Initially, DuckDuckGo was created because its founder, Gabriel Weinberg, was not happy with Google's search results (e.g., spam, lack of instant answers, overall bad user experience). By addressing these concerns in his own solution, Mr. Weinberg came to realize the importance of privacy and evolved DuckDuckGo into a privacy-oriented search solution.

If you would like to hear more about this in his own words, check out Episode 25 of the Reality 2.0 podcast.

Privacy

DuckDuckGo's Privacy Policy states, "DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information." The rest of their policy makes the case for why you should care about privacy.

Here are some choice quotes:

...when you do a search and then click on a link, your search terms are sent to that site you clicked on (in the HTTP referrer header). We call this sharing of personal information "search leakage."

For example, when you search for something private, you are sharing that private search not only with your search engine, but also with all the sites that you clicked on (for that search).

In addition, when you visit any site, your computer automatically sends information about it to that site (including your User agent and IP address). This information can often be used to identify you directly.

So when you do that private search, not only can those other sites know your search terms, but they can also know that you searched it. It is this combination of available information about you that raises privacy concerns.

DuckDuckGo prevents search leakage by default. Instead, when you click on a link on our site, we route (redirect) that request in such a way so that it does not send your search terms to other sites. The other sites will still know that you visited them, but they will not know what search you entered beforehand.

 

Other search engines save your search history. Usually your searches are saved along with the date and time of the search, some information about your computer (e.g. your IP address, User agent and often a unique identifier stored in a browser cookie), and if you are logged in, your account information (e.g. name and email address).

With only the timestamp and computer information, your searches can often be traced directly to you. With the additional account information, they are associated directly with you.

Also, note that with this information your searches can be tied together. This means someone can see everything you've been searching, not just one isolated search. You can usually find out a lot about a person from their search history.

 

...search engines are not legally obligated to collect personal information in the first place. They do it on their own volition.

The bottom line is if search engines have your information, it could get out, even if they have the best intentions. And this information (your search history) can be pretty personal.

For these reasons, DuckDuckGo takes the approach to not collect any personal information. The decisions of whether and how to comply with law enforcement requests, whether and how to anonymize data, and how to best protect your information from hackers are out of our hands. Your search history is safe with us because it cannot be tied to you in any way.

 

When you search at DuckDuckGo, we don't know who you are and there is no way to tie your searches together.

When you access DuckDuckGo (or any Web site), your Web browser automatically sends information about your computer, e.g. your User agent and IP address.

Because this information could be used to link you to your searches, we do not log (store) it at all. This is a very unusual practice, but we feel it is an important step to protect your privacy.

 

Another way that your searches are often tied together at other search engines are through browser cookies, which are pieces of information that sit on your computer and get sent to the search engine on each request. What search engines often do is store a unique identifier in your browser and then associate that identifier with your searches. At DuckDuckGo, no cookies are used by default.

In response to efforts by the EFF and others, the major search engines have begun "anonymizing" their search log data after periods of time. Sure, this is better than not doing so, but you should note that this does not make your search history anonymous in the same way that it is at DuckDuckGo.

What search engines generally do when they anonymize data is get rid of part of your IP address or turn it into something that doesn't look exactly like an IP address. And they do the same thing for uniquely identifying cookies.

However, in many cases, this so-called anonymous data can still tie your searches together, which can be used to reconstruct who you are and what you searched for. Additionally, search engines usually are silent on what they do with the User agent, which has been shown to also have enough information to often be personally identifiable, especially if isolated to a particular search session (day).

 

At DuckDuckGo, no cookies are used by default. If you have changed any settings, then cookies are used to store those changes. However, in that case, they are not stored in a personally identifiable way. For example, the large size setting is stored as 's=l'; no unique identifier is in there. Furthermore, if you prefer not to use cookies to store settings, you can use URL parameters instead.

Additionally, if you use our !bang syntax/dropdown, which bangs you use are stored in a cookie so that we can list your most frequently used ones on top of the !bang dropdown box. Just like the other settings, this information is not saved on our servers at all, but resides solely on your computer. There is also a setting to turn this off, which you can also set via a URL parameter. Particular searches are of course not stored. An example cookie might look like: php=2&yelp=19&java=4.

We also save searches, but again, not in a personally identifiable way, as we do not store IP addresses or unique User agent strings. We use aggregate, non-personal search data to improve things like misspellings.

Similarly, we may add an affiliate code to some eCommerce sites (e.g. Amazon & eBay) that results in small commissions being paid back to DuckDuckGo when you make purchases at those sites. We do not use any third parties to do the code insertion, and we do not work with any sites that share personally identifiable information (e.g. name, address, etc.) via their affiliate programs. This means that no information is shared from DuckDuckGo to the sites, and the only information that is collected from this process is product information, which is not tied to any particular user and which we do not save or store on our end.

 

...if you give us feedback, it may be stored in our email. However, you can give anonymous feedback (by not entering your email or other personal info on the feedback form).

Business Model

DuckDuckGo generates revenue in two ways.

Advertising

Advertising has become synonymous with invasive profiling and tracking. However, it was not always this way, and tracking is not required to make money from advertising.

Advertising on DuckDuckGo takes the form of sponsored links that appear above search results. The advertisements that are shown are based on the keywords used in the search, not the person that ran the search.

Affiliate Revenue

DuckDuckGo is part of affiliate programs for eCommerce sites like Amazon and eBay. When you visit those sites through DuckDuckGo and make a purchase, DuckDuckGo receives a commission.

DuckDuckGo states that this mechanism operates anonymously and that there is no Personally Identifiable Information (PII) exchanged between them and the eCommerce site. Also, DuckDuckGo says that these programs do not influence their ranking or relevancy functions.

Sources

DuckDuckGo's traditional search results are sourced from several partners, including Bing and Oath (formerly Yahoo!). DuckDuckGo's Instant Answers get results from hundreds of sources.

Regarding these partners and privacy, DuckDuckGo states:

As per our strict privacy policy, we never share any personal information with any of our partners. The way it works is when we call a partner for information, it is proxied through our servers so it stays completely anonymous. That is, any call to a partner looks to the partner as it is from us and not the user itself, and no user personal information is passed in that process (e.g. their IP address). That way we can build our search result pages using these 100s of partner sources, while still keeping them completely anonymous to you.

Features

Building a search experience on a strong foundation that emphasizes users' privacy and security is admirable, but the product still needs to offer useful functionality. Also, it would be nice if it was fun to use. DuckDuckGo does a good job at meeting these criteria.

Instant Answers

For certain types of searches, there may be a specialized search engine or content source that provides a better answer than a general search engine. DuckDuckGo's Instant Answers tries to use these sources to provide the answer you are looking for, directly at the top of your search results. This way, you do not need to select a linked source to find what you are looking for.

For example, if you ran a query for j'onn j'onzz, you would see something like this at the top of your results:

Martian Manhunter

This Instant Answer was pulled directly from Wikipedia.

These kinds of results are also great for quick references, like a cheat sheet:

Git Cheat Sheet

Or getting the addresses of Public DNS Servers:

Public DNS Servers

Having this information in the search results can save you time.

Instant Answers can be used for more than displaying static content from sites. For example, they can handle conversions:

Time Conversion

They can provide a handy Color Picker:

Color Picker

Or a timer:

Timer

You can peruse the available Instant Answers sources here.

Bangs

You can use DuckDuckGo like a traditional search engine, but, with bangs, it may be more accurate to think of it as a meta search engine. A bang is a shortcut that redirects your search query to a different search provider (or to a specific type of search at DuckDuckGo, like an image search).

These shortcuts are called bangs because they start with the ! symbol. Bangs can be placed anywhere in your DuckDuckGo search query, and DuckDuckGo supports thousands of bangs.

For example, if you wanted to run an IMDB query for Attack on Titan, you could enter the following at DuckDuckGo:

!imdb attack on titan

This would work just as well:

attack on titan !imdb

Or, if you want to do a video search at DuckDuckGo for Hayao Miyazaki, you could do this:

!v hayao miyazaki

Here is a collection of useful bangs:

!am
Amazon.com
!amaps
Apple Maps
!bang
DuckDuckGo Bangs
!bmaps
Bing Maps
!camel
camelcamelcamel
!cn
Charity Navigator
!cb
CrunchBase
!css
Mozilla Developer Network CSS
!d
The Free Dictionary
!dia
DuckDuckGo Instant Answers
!die
Die.net Linux Man Pages
!eff
Electronic Frontier Foundation
!gh
GitHub
!gitdocs
Git Documentation
!gn
Google News
!gnu
GNU
!gr
GoodReads
!http
HTTP Status Codes
!i
DuckDuckGo Images
!ia
Internet Archive
!iata
IATA Airport Code
!imdb
Internet Movie Database
!ip
WhatIsMyIPAddress.com
!lyrics
Lyric Wiki
!m
Google Maps
!man
UNIX BSD Linux SunOS HP-UX & Perl Man Pages
!mdn
Mozilla Developer Network
!moztest
Mozilla Observatory Test
!mx
MxToolbox
!news
DuckDuckGo News
!openmaps
OpenStreetMap
!pagespeed
Google PageSpeed Insights
!pkgs
Packages Search
!ports
Speedguide.net Port Lookup
!r
Reddit
!rt
Rotten Tomatoes
!se
StackExchange
!so
Stack Overflow
!sp
Startpage
!spi
Startpage Images
!spv
Startpage Videos
!track
Package Mapping
!ud
Urban Dictionary
!unic
Unicode Character Table
!unicode
Unicode Character Search
!v
DuckDuckGo Videos
!validate
W3C Validator
!validatecss
CSS Validation Service
!vimeo
Vimeo
!w
Wikipedia
!wbm
Internet Archive Wayback Machine
!whois
Domaintools Whois
!wiht
WhoIsHostingThis
!wu
Weather Underground
!yt
YouTube

Keep in mind, if you leave off a search term when using a bang, it will load the search provider's homepage, instead. For example, entering !gh into DuckDuckGo will take you directly to GitHub.

This is a great way to get to your favorite sites without having to type out the whole site address. Essentially, they are like built-in bookmarks.

Keyboard Shortcuts

The DuckDuckGo interface can be navigated with keyboard shortcuts.

Moving Around

and
Move between search tabs (e.g., Web, Images, Video)
or j
Next search result
or k
Previous search result
/ or h
Go to search box
t
Go to top
m
Go to main results

Opening Results

Enter or l or o
Go to highlighted result, or use right away to go to the first result
Control-Enter
Open a result in the background
d
Domain search (if a result is highlighted)
' or v
Open the highlighted result in a new window/tab (JavaScript will need to be enabled)

Extensions

DuckDuckGo makes available browser extensions for Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. That being said, a browser extension will not make much difference if the browser itself does not respect you.

Also, there are existing tried and true extensions that can protect and secure your browsing experience, so the DuckDuckGo extension may be redundant. However, the Decode Privacy Policies functionality it offers is a nice touch.

Decode Privacy Policy

Finally, you can set DuckDuckGo to be your default browser search engine, regardless of what browser you use. This does not require an extension.

Mobile

DuckDuckGo offers apps for both iOS and Android. On Android, you can set your default browser to a different app, like Mozilla's Firefox, while on iOS, you cannot. Therefore, mobile users may find more utility in DuckDuckGo's mobile app if they are iOS users.

The apps incorporate the same feature set as the DuckDuckGo browser extensions, including the previously mentioned Decode Privacy Policies functionality. Also, they make it easy to quickly remove all local data from the app with a slick animation.

Burn It All

Like on desktops/laptops, you can change your browser's default search engine to DuckDuckGo. The DuckDuckGo mobile app is not required to do this. For iOS Safari, you can accomplish this by going to Settings > Safari > Search Engine.

On Android, it will depend on what your default browser is. For Google Chrome, follow these steps. For Mozilla Firefox, use the instructions here.

Miscellaneous

If you need to quickly access DuckDuckGo (e.g., you are using someone else's device and their browser's default search engine is not DuckDuckGo), you can use the ddg.co address to get there.

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