This Search Engine Does Not Track Its Users

Stories from New Scientist.
June 22 2013 8:00 AM

Search Engine Privacy

DuckDuckGo does not track its users.

Gabriel Weinberg is the creator of duckduckgo.com, a search engine that does not track users history and information.
Gabriel Weinberg is the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, a search engine that does not track users' history and information.

Photo by Sean Simmers/the Washington Post/Getty Images

Revelations about governments' online snooping have been good news for Gabriel Weinberg, founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo—a search engine that doesn't track its users. He has degrees in physics and in technology and policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wendy M. Grossman: What made you set up DuckDuckGo?
Gabriel Weinberg: I started it a little over five years ago, just intending to build a better search engine. My initial focus was to reduce spam and prevent irrelevant sites from coming up in links, and also to make better instant answers. A lot of times you want stuff from Wikipedia, so that was the first place I tried to give you an answer from. After I launched, I started getting questions about search privacy. When I investigated, I decided I didn't want to store data.

WG: Why didn't you want to track your users?
GW: Google has been pretty transparent about handing over data to law enforcement, to their credit. I thought that would be inevitable if we store data. Also, it's just kind of creepy for the search engine to know so much about you. You have your most personal relationship on the Internet with the search engine—medical queries, where you're going, all tied back to one person. That's the case even more now; infrastructure in tracking people online has exploded in the last five years.

WG: Internet companies make money by selling user data to advertisers. How do you make a profit if you don't collect data?
GW: It's a myth that Google needs to track users to make money on Web search. The vast majority—99 percent—of the money in Web search is based on keyword matching. If you type in "car," you get a car ad. We make money the same way.

Advertisement

WG: Who uses your search engine?
GW: Different people prefer different experiences and user interfaces. Google is trying to appeal to the average user—we are trying to carve out a niche for the serious person who knows what they're doing and wants their privacy protected and a great result. We have servers around the world, and we can see how much traffic is coming in from which areas, so we know our users are about 50 percent United States, 50 percent international. We also do surveys, which show that about half our users come in after reading about us in the press. It varies what the story was about—privacy, instant answers, or just, "Check this out, it's cool." The rest find out about us through word of mouth.

WG: Are you still improving the search engine?
GW: We are focusing more on instant answers. When you do a search, the answer often exists on a particular site. The big ones are obvious: Movies are IMDB, for restaurants you might want Yelp. But when you get into more obscure queries, you really don't know what that site is. It's our job to figure that out and give you an answer quickly. That requires two things: classification and plug-ins to give you the data in the right format. We are recruiting open source developers to make those plug-ins.

WG: Have the revelations about the National Security Agency's monitoring program affected your traffic?
GW: We were close to 2 million queries a day before the NSA story broke. Since then, traffic has passed 3 million. We've broken records.

This article originally appeared in New Scientist.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.