You’ve seen the obnoxious side of online tracking if you’ve ever searched for a pair of shoes only to have ads for those same shoes appear on seemingly every site you visited for the next month. DuckDuckGo is a search engine that promises not to track you and to keep your search activity private.
Other private browsers, such as Brave, block trackers and third-party cookies that monitor your web browsing activity. DuckDuckGo, on the other hand, sees itself as a direct competitor to Google Search, complete with a mobile app and extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and other browsers.
Following major incidents such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, people have become more aware of how much personal information is available to tech companies and advertisers – and are opting out of being tracked whenever possible, as Apple’s iOS 14.5 allows. While it does not track users, DuckDuckGo’s app has been downloaded more than 50 million times in the last year alone – more than in the previous 13 years combined.
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that provides a mobile browser app and a desktop extension to allow you to browse the internet without companies collecting your personal information. It promises to keep your searches private and anonymous, and it has built-in tracker blocking to make it more difficult for websites to collect information about you.
To begin, DuckDuckGo does not track searches conducted via its browser extension or mobile app. Other browsers, including Chrome, let you open private or incognito windows that do not track your search history, but their default windows do. (Every “embarrassing search history” joke is based on this.) DuckDuckGo never tracks your search history instead of redirecting you to a different version of its app.
DuckDuckGo searches also connect you to encrypted versions of websites whenever possible, making it more difficult for others to see what you’re looking at online. This is another case where other search engines provide both encrypted and unencrypted options, but the default isn’t always the most privacy-friendly option. DuckDuckGo eliminates the need to manually navigate to encrypted connections.
DuckDuckGo takes the opposite approach to other large tech companies such as Google and Facebook, which have traditionally made money by targeting ads based on your browsing history and personal data. While Google has stated that it will discontinue this practice, the platform continues to collect a large amount of data about you, including your location and search activity – yes, even in incognito mode.
Incognito mode simply deletes information from your computer related to your browsing session: your history, cookies, and any information you’ve entered into fields. Notably, it only does so after you have finished your session by closing all of your tabs. So, even if you leave your incognito tabs open for hours or days at a time, that data will accumulate. And, regardless, Google can save your searches – and businesses, internet service providers, and governments can still track you across the internet, even when you’re using incognito mode.
DuckDuckGo still makes money from advertising; it just doesn’t use targeted advertisements. The search engine displays ads based on the keywords you enter, which are unrelated to your personal information, such as your browsing or purchasing history. Essentially, you’ll only see ads for whatever you’re currently looking for, rather than the strange product your friend sent you a link to last week that you can’t seem to get away from.
Simply open your app store and search for “DuckDuckGo” on mobile devices. You can download the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser app and use it in the same way that you would Chrome or Safari. You’ll see a fire icon in the bottom center of your app, which you can press at any time to close all your tabs and clear all personal data.
Go to duckduckgo.com on your desktop, where you’ll see a button to add DuckDuckGo to your browser. On Chrome, you’ll be taken to the Chrome webstore, where you can download the extension for free. On Safari, you’ll be shown how to make DuckDuckGo your default search engine or how to manually activate a DuckDuckGo search.