On a recent flight to LA, I was chatted up by a gentleman from DC, who happened to notice me using a strange search engine. Upon inquiry, I told him it was called ‘DuckDuckGo’ and had been around for a while. Though according to search engine share figures it occupies merely 5%-7% of the industry it is still my search engine of choice when connected to a public Wi-Fi.

He reluctantly asked why I was using an obscure search engine as opposed to ‘Google,’ a search engine used by 99% of Americans. Perhaps he was reluctant because I could turn out be a hacker and a mere association with me could land him in deep waters with the law. However, the reason as I told him was that Google was too intrusive. DuckDuckGo, may not be the king of search engines but it indeed is the king of privacy.

Going Incognito with DuckDuckGo

One way to keep your online activities private is to use a premium VPN service, like Nord VPN. However, search engines like Google still tend to install cookies on your computer, track what you’re searching for and try to map out what you’re interested in online. The goal is to profile every user and use that information to run targeted advertising.

DuckDuckGo happens to comply strictly with the upcoming GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). The GDPR regulation is scheduled for May 2018, and its mere suggestion has many people rethinking their privacy.

DuckDuckGo does not track a user’s IP address, their user agent, and does not collect any other piece of personal information or information that can be used to identify a user. It is the perfect search engine for people like me who do not want anyone to know I’m at the airport checking out the best picnic spots in LA. Not only that I hate the thought of my information being sold to third parties. These third parties then try to peddle everything from calling cards to trying to sell me car insurance.

It is also one of the few websites that you can visit without having your identity behind a VPN. It helps you stay under the radar regardless.

How good are the search results?

Privacy is all well and good, but we use a search engine to find stuff online which in my case, happens to be the best beaches in LA. Like Google, Bing and Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, allows you to fine-tune your search. You can also choose from safe, moderate or unsafe search. Plus, you can fine-tune the results to your country which allows you only to see content from where you’re based or currently located. Of course, DuckDuckGo does not automatically do that because they don’t look at your IP address like Google.

When compared head to head with Google for similar searches we found that the results differed. However, in my personal experience and those of my colleagues, the results are as helpful if not more than those by Google. That said its clear that DuckDuckGo is no Google clone and as such what you can’t find on Google, you’ll probably DDG using this search engine, and vice versa.

The drawbacks of not tracking your IP address

All search engines except for DuckDuckGo, happen to track users’ IP addresses. However, since this particular search engine does not, the default results are not location specific. So, if you were hoping to find a vintage video game arcade nearby, this is not the search engine for you.

The other thing that’s not considered is your search history (for obvious reasons). Even though this makes the search engine feel less creepy than Google, for instance, the results are not consequently tailored to your interests. Which means that you’ll see the same search results as the person halfway across the world, for the same key phrase.

Working around the drawbacks

Now if you’ve become as old and seasoned as me, you’ll know that there is always a workaround, but there are trade-offs too. So, if you really wanted to search Google without being tracked, you can do it through DuckDuckGo. The same goes if you wanted to search Wikipedia, Google Maps for local businesses, etc. Just follow the short cheat sheet below:

  • Start your search with ‘!gi’ for results from Google Images
  • Start your search with ‘!gm’ for results from Google Maps
  • Start your search with ‘!w’ for results from Wikipedia

Note: You’ll be able to find all the detailed commands for other searches by just typing ‘!’ in DDG’s search box!

The only drawbacks are that the search results can be a little tricky and not tailored to your region…but then again you probably already know that.

What I would change about DuckDuckGo?

Well honestly, it’s not a lot, but there are a few changes I’d recommend that they make. The first being it would be ideal if the search engine shows the total number of results found. This would help searchers either expand or change their preferences.

The other problem I have is that the engine does not display page numbers. You keep scrolling, and new search results will load automatically, and that’s kind of a bummer for me. I’d instead click on the page number and since that’s what Google does because it makes the listings look neater.

The third thing I’d change is to make the advertising less intrusive. Apparently, the sponsored results are woven into the SERPs, with just two letters “AD.” They are hard to spot and often I’ve found myself in a rather unwanted part of the internet.

DuckDuckGo spells doom and gloom for marketers

While people like me love using DuckDuckGo for the majority of searching, marketers can’t benefit from it since nothing is tracked. There is no way for marketers to gear their advertising by categorizing them by using filters like gender, age, location, etc.

The other tricky part of using DuckDuckGo is that the traffic from the search engine is reported as ‘referral traffic’ and not organic traffic which is misleading to anyone trying to analyze their site’s traffic source. So, you’ll need to add a rule to Google Analytics that each time there is traffic from DuckDuckGo, it is seen as organic.

The same goes for their paid search scheme. They don’t offer remarketing ads. Most sponsored ads depending on what you pay to appear on the top. Though you can’t control who is sees the ads and who has seen them. So, there is no way of fine-tuning the advertising, so just pay for it and hope you hit the jackpot.

Does DuckDuckGo does away with the need for a premium VPN service?

Well it does not! Yes it keeps your searches private from FBI, CIA and a load of other organizations trying to track your every keystroke. However, once you’ve clicked on the results, the website you’re visiting is not so kind. So, you’re only protected for as long as you’re on DuckDuckGo which is not for the entirety of your stay on the internet. Plus, your ISP can always keep an eye on your keystrokes and log every one of them. Which means that they know what you’re searching for and that you’re using DuckDuckGo.

A VPN keeps everything you do private. Everything from what you email to a friend to the URL typed into a web browser is all kept encrypted, and invisible to even your ISP. Almost nobody knows who you are, where you live and what browsing habits you have. Plus, if you combine that with the incognito mode of your web browser, websites won’t even be able to know if you’ve visited them before.

So, VPNs are without a doubt the ultimate weapon against hackers, suppressive governments, and surveillance. Though DuckDuckGo’s claim to fame is being a 100% tracker free, search engine it does not protect you beyond its borders.

In case you were wondering, that gentleman I mentioned earlier tried out DuckDuckGo on their phone and was pleasantly surprised!

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