Protecting your data and privacy is becoming increasingly important. Users are now concerned about their private data collected by search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. This worry has led many people to turn to alternatives, the most popular of which is the DuckDuckGo privacy-focused search engine.
DuckDuckGo is a search engine company that promises safe and secure browsing. They also offer a privacy-focused browser for mobile devices.
But how safe and reliable is DuckDuckGo?
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about DuckDuckGo and its many privacy features.
Let’s dive in.
What Is DuckDuckGo?
DuckDuckGo is a search engine specifically designed for users who want to protect their privacy while using the internet.
Unlike other search engines, DuckDuckGo strictly limits the personal information it collects. That makes it an excellent option for users who want to keep their data private.
DuckDuckGo summarizes its services with the simple motto: “Same Internet, more privacy.”
While DuckDuckGo isn’t the world’s most popular search engine, it does boast an impressively large user base. In 2021, DuckDuckGo facilitates more than three billion searches monthly and helps users with over five million downloads on mobile apps and desktop computers.
DuckDuckGo’s users are also delighted with the search engine, as DuckDuckGo enjoys an average rating of 4.8 on Apple and Google Play stores.
Let’s dig into a little more about DuckDuckGo’s history.
DuckDuckGo: A Brief History
Entrepreneur Gabriel Weinberg founded DuckDuckGo in February 2008. Weinberg designed DuckDuckGo as an alternative to mainstream search engines like Google and Yahoo.
While the search engine didn’t achieve overnight success, it did grow in popularity quickly. By the end of 2008, it reached the homepage of popular platforms like Hacker News and Reddit.
Over the next few years, DuckDuckGo became famous through several vital campaigns. These included making all browsing through DuckDuckGo anonymous, the DontTrack.us website, and the famous billboard ad saying, “Google tracks you. We don’t.”
After the success of these campaigns, DuckDuckGo’s user base snowballed.
In 2012, the search engine reached one million searches per day. It would then hit two million and 10 million searches per day in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Owing to its growing popularity, Apple, Mozilla, and even Google added DuckDuckGo as a search engine option in their browsers.
After increased scrutiny of surveillance capitalism, DuckDuckGo is currently experiencing a peak in popularity. Between 2018 and 2020, the search engine doubled its volume from 25 billion to 50 billion searches.
When people first learn about DuckDuckGo, they usually raise their eyebrows at its name. The name “DuckDuckGo” isn’t related to search engines. Weinberg named his search engine after the children’s game “Duck Duck Goose.”
DuckDuckGo Privacy Features
DuckDuckGo is famous globally for its privacy features. Since the early days, DuckDuckGo has cultivated a reputation as an alternative search engine that prioritizes user privacy.
But how exactly does DuckDuckGo keep your data safe? In this section, we’ll cover DuckDuckGo’s best privacy features and how they work.
DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials Browser Extension
The Privacy Essentials extension acts as both a search engine and an ad blocker. When you use the search engine, Privacy Essentials blocks any banner ads and popups that would generally appear in your search results.
The extension also has several inbuilt privacy features. These include:
- Blocks browser-based online tracking from the websites you visit.
- Encrypts your search results to hide them from internet service providers.
- Global Privacy Control (GPC) warns sites not to share or sell data they collect about you.
Privacy Essentials also gives you the option to control your privacy settings. While it blocks most ads, it gives you the option to safelist ads from particular domains. You can also turn on SafeSearch, change the country you search from, and curate your search results.
DuckDuckGo’s most well-known privacy feature is “untracked search.” Most search engines track your searches in a few ways, including data from websites you visit, what you search, your IP address, browser and device information, and more. Even if each data set is anonymized, companies can combine them to identify and track you.
To protect your privacy, DuckDuckGo doesn’t collect cookies, IP addresses, or user-agent information (like the web browser you use). Instead, DuckDuckGo saves users’ searches anonymously — meaning it has no way to connect your search for “Thai Restaurant Open Now” to you.
DuckDuckGo’s untracked search features also extend to the websites you visit.
DuckDuckGo stops websites from collecting cookies by blocking them from accessing your data. As DuckDuckGo doesn’t identify you, it cannot pass that information on.
Privacy Grade is another well-known DuckDuckGo feature that works through the browser extension and mobile app. In short, Privacy Grade identifies when a website is tracking your data and warns you as you browse.
DuckDuckGo automatically activates Privacy Grade whenever you visit a website. The feature then scans the website and assigns it a privacy grade from “A” to “F,” with “A” being the safest.
Privacy Grade does two things:
- It checks how many tracking requests it blocks from the website.
- It reviews the website’s terms of service agreement with ToS: DR (Terms of Service: Didn’t Read).
Once you’ve received each website’s grade, you can see the trackers that the website tried to place on you.
DuckDuckGo also shows you the impact of its privacy features. When it gives you a grade, it’ll show you a bar with “Enhanced from __ to __” (e.g., “Enhanced from D to B”). The first grade in red is the original grade, and the second grade in green is the adjusted grade from DuckDuckGo’s privacy features.
DuckDuckGo’s Burn Bar is a feature specific to its mobile app. The Burn Bar allows you to close your tabs and delete your browsing data at the end of each session. Thus, DuckDuckGo won’t store your data internally, giving you complete control over your search history.
To use the Burn Bar in the DuckDuckGo app, click the flame icon visible at the bottom of your screen.
Blocking Embedded Social Media Content
As social media is an everyday part of life for most internet users, websites are now embedding social media posts like Youtube videos into their web content.
However, this introduces a privacy problem that raises the eyebrows of many internet users.
Whenever a website embeds a social media post, that social media platform collects data about who viewed it — including your IP address.
That means two different third parties are collecting your data: the website you visited and the embedded social media platform.
DuckDuckGo is slowly working to fix this by blocking embedded social media posts. So far, DuckDuckGo only stops content from a few social media companies (like Facebook), but the company will expand its blocklist to other platforms soon.
This feature is currently available in DuckDuckGo’s browser extension and mobile apps.
Search Leakage Prevention
DuckDuckGo uses the term “search leakage” to describe how search engines like Yahoo, Bing, and Google link your data.
Whenever you click on a new link, your search engine shares tiny pieces of data with the website you clicked on. These little nuggets create a trail of data that allows the search engine and third-party websites to track your activity.
To stop this from happening, DuckDuckGo protects its users with two strategies.
First, DuckDuckGo reroutes your clicks to make it impossible for websites to determine how you got to a website. Suppose you searched for a local restaurant and clicked its website’s link in the search results, the website owner wouldn’t see that you found their website after you searched for “Thai restaurant near me.”
Second, DuckDuckGo displays an encrypted version of the websites you click. This strategy prevents the website from learning any information about you, as DuckDuckGo essentially creates a wall between you and the site.
No User Profile Collection
Search engines like Google generate a picture of who you are through a “user profile.” This user profile describes general information about you, including your:
- IP address
Search engines then pair this data with your browsing history and cookies, which allows them to generate an idea of — and capitalize on — your interests.
Search engines use this user profile to filter the advertising content that you see. Many brands want to advertise to specific demographics (for example, North American male Mac users aged 22–30).
As DuckDuckGo’s privacy features prevent the search engine from collecting identifying data about you and your searches, it lets you browse the internet without a user profile. This feature is excellent for anyone who wants to dodge personalized ads.
This feature also has another benefit: it eliminates filter bubbles. When you get stuck in a “filter bubble,” your search engine prioritizes your search results by your user profile. As filter bubbles can limit your searches, browsing the internet without a user profile helps you get more complete results.
Tor Exit Enclave
While many DuckDuckGo users are happy with the encryption provided by its other features, some users prefer to fully encrypt their internet activity with Tor (i.e., “The Onion Router”).
Tor is an internet browser that allows people to browse the internet anonymously. When you use Tor, your searches route through multiple encrypted servers.
This strategy makes it impossible for anyone to track your internet use, as multiple layers of encryption protect your browsing data.
DuckDuckGo helps users browse the internet through Tor by operating a Tor exit enclave. This enclave allows users to use DuckDuckGo through Tor quickly, without sacrificing anonymity.
To use DuckDuckGo’s Tor exit enclave, you’ll need to download Tor and use DuckDuckGo’s search engine.
Content Security Policy Reports
Like many other internet companies, DuckDuckGo’s search engine protects users from malicious websites using a Content Security Policy (CSP).
CSP’s communicate with your web browser to identify and block third-party websites that may launch a cybersecurity attack on you.
DuckDuckGo’s CSP protects you from a range of attacks, including:
- Cross-Site-Scripting (XSS) attacks: A website injects unwanted and malicious code into your browser during these attacks.
- Code injection attacks: An attacker injects code into your computer or server during these attacks and then alters your or your website’s actions (for example, redirecting you or your users to another website).
- Clickjacking attacks: During these attacks, an attacker tricks you into clicking on something malicious.
DuckDuckGo’s CSP feature works through its search engine, meaning you can use it through DuckDuckGo.com, the Privacy Essentials browser extension, or the mobile app.
Why DuckDuckGo Is Better for Privacy
In the previous section, we covered plenty of DuckDuckGo’s privacy features. But why is DuckDuckGo better for privacy overall?
Each of DuckDuckGo’s features protects users from a particular threat. While some of these threats may seem small and insignificant, they can add up very quickly. Most internet users perform multiple searches every day. You’re constantly giving nuggets of data about yourself to websites unknowingly.
Ultimately, DuckDuckGo gives users some of the privacy and anonymity benefits of more intense solutions like Tor without impacting your web browsing experience.
That said, DuckDuckGo isn’t a perfect tool.
DuckDuckGo Privacy Concerns
DuckDuckGo is a beneficial technology, but users do have some concerns with it. This section will briefly outline two of those concerns.
DuckDuckGo finances itself through search engine advertisements and affiliate links. DuckDuckGo’s search engine advertisements operate just like Google or Yahoo’s (except it doesn’t rely on your data).
Furthermore, its affiliate links automatically apply when you purchase on Amazon or eBay. When DuckDuckGo uses an affiliate link, the sales platform pays the company a commission on your purchase.
While this does give DuckDuckGo access to your purchase data (like what you bought), the company cannot access any identifying data (like your shipping address).
While DuckDuckGo doesn’t use your IP address, the search engine uses your location data when you search for terms like “Thai restaurant near me.” Specifically, DuckDuckGo uses a GEO::IP lookup, which approximates your location.
Sometimes this data is very accurate, while other times, it isn’t.
DuckDuckGo will sometimes ask users for their location to provide more exact search results. If DuckDuckGo wants to use your location, it’ll ask you with a popup like this:
As the popup mentions, DuckDuckGo doesn’t store your location data on its servers.
How to Maximize DuckDuckGo Privacy
While DuckDuckGo already provides users with a reasonable degree of privacy, there are ways to get the most out of the technology. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Download the DuckDuckGo browser extension and turn on all privacy settings.
- Check the Privacy Grade of websites you visit frequently.
- Download the mobile app and use its “burn” button after each internet session.
- Get a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that lets you browse anonymously.
- Pair DuckDuckGo with the Brave Browser.
- Use Tor with DuckDuckGo as an exit enclave.
How DuckDuckGo Compares to Other Search Engines
If you consider trying out DuckDuckGo, you may be wondering how it compares to Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
DuckDuckGo vs Google
While DuckDuckGo is a great Google alternative, Google is a superior search engine in terms of results.
Google understands your queries in context, prioritizes up-to-date content, and personalizes your searches based on your behavior and user profile. Google Search also integrates with other Google products like Google Maps and Google Workspace.
Although DuckDuckGo’s search engine has features like Bang searches, it can’t deliver you the same level of customization as Google.
If you need comprehensive search features, you might choose Google, but if you value your data privacy, you may prefer DuckDuckGo.
DuckDuckGo vs Bing
Bing isn’t as popular as Google, but it’s still a good search engine. Bing has very advanced image search features, an explorer panel, Bing apps, and Bing Rebates as part of the Microsoft Rewards program.
DuckDuckGo’s image search features don’t stack up to Bing’s, but it does offer anonymous browsing.
DuckDuckGo vs Yahoo
Yahoo is a very customizable search engine. It allows users to adjust the interface to their tastes, and it delivers personalized advertisements. Yahoo Search also works well with other Yahoo products like Yahoo News and Yahoo Mail.
However, Yahoo isn’t as good as Bing and Google in delivering image and video content.
DuckDuckGo, Bing, and Yahoo are comparable in search engine functionality, but the best option for you will depend on your privacy tastes and online habits.
How to Install DuckDuckGo
Now that you know more about DuckDuckGo, let’s dive into the search engine itself.
There are three ways you can use DuckDuckGo:
- A browser extension
- The company’s iOS and Android apps
We’ve outlined the steps for accessing each option below.
DuckDuckGo Browser Extension
DuckDuckGo doesn’t currently have its own desktop browser, but you can add DuckDuckGo to your browser as an extension. The extension is now available on Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera, and Safari.
- Follow this link to the Chrome store.
- Click “Add to Chrome” on the right-hand side of your screen.
- Click “Add Extension” when prompted.
- Wait for Chrome to install DuckDuckGo.
- Follow this link to Mozilla Add Ons.
- Click “Download Firefox and get the extension.”
- Click “Confirm” when prompted.
- Wait for Mozilla Firefox to install DuckDuckGo.
- Follow this link to the Microsoft store.
- Click “Get.”
- Click “Add Extension” when prompted.
- Wait for Microsoft Edge to install DuckDuckGo.
- Follow this link to the Opera Add-Ons store.
- Click “Download Now.”
- Confirm your download.
- Wait for Opera to install DuckDuckGo.
- Follow this link to the Mac App Store.
- Click “Get App.”
- Confirm your download.
- Wait for Safari to install DuckDuckGo.
DuckDuckGo’s extension isn’t currently available for Internet Explorer. If you’d like to use DuckDuckGo with Internet Explorer, you can set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine by:
- Going to “DuckDuckGo.com”
- Selecting “Make this my default search provider.”
- Clicking “Add”
If you’re new to using DuckDuckGo, you might want to test the search engine out before you download it.
You can use the search engine by visiting the webpage “duckduckgo.com.” You then use DuckDuckGo like any other search engine.
While DuckDuckGo delivers you results like other search engines do, it also has a few unique quirks. That includes its font, how it delivers search results, and its features.
As you can see from the image below, DuckDuckGo doesn’t mark your search results with page numbers. Instead, it gives you the option to see “More Results” or turn on infinite scroll.
You can also alter your search settings at the top of the browser.
These settings let you change the country you are browsing from, the level of safe search you want to use (“Strict,” “Moderate,” or “Off”), and your personal settings — language, infinite scroll, layout, and text size.
DuckDuckGo’s search engine also has a search function known as “Bang!”. Bang searches allow you to search inside a domain quickly. These searches generally use the format “!(shortcut): (search term)”, where the “shortcut” refers to the website.
For example, you can search for content on Youtube with the bang search “!yt: (search term)”. Some of the most popular Bang searches include:
- “!gimg:” — used for Google image searches
- “!nf:” — used for Netflix searches
- “!giphy:” — used for Giphy searches
- “!hulu:” — used for Hulu searches
You can also learn how to change your default search engine to have instant access to DuckDuckGo through your browser’s address bar.
DuckDuckGo Mobile Apps
DuckDuckGo currently has two mobile apps: one for iOS devices and another for Android.
To download the iOS device, you simply need to:
- Go to the Apple app store.
- Search for “DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser.”
- Click “Get” and confirm your download with your password or touch ID.
- Wait for the app to download.
To download the Android app, you simply need to:
- Go to the Google Play store.
- Search for “DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser” (or click here).
- Click “Install” and confirm your download.
- Wait for the app to download.
Once you’ve downloaded either app, you can start browsing or follow our earlier instructions to set DuckDuckGo as your default search app.
DuckDuckGo is a great Google, Bing, and Yahoo alternative for anyone who wants to use the internet anonymously.
While DuckDuckGo’s search engine isn’t as robust as Google’s, it works fine for most day-to-day queries. Moreover, it offers unique privacy features that protect your data from websites, other search engines, and any malicious parties.
For us, the best DuckDuckGo features are its ad-blocking browser extension, untracked browsing, Burn Bar, Tor exit enclave, and privacy grades.
What else do you like about DuckDuckGo? Share with us in the comments section!