For the last month Duck Duck Go has been my default search engine on my computers, tablets and phone. It’s not the first time I’ve tried this experiment.
Unlike other search engines Duck Duck Go doesn’t track your searches. You’ll see advertising based on your search terms, but they don’t relate back to earlier searches. Nor are they based on your recent web activity elsewhere.
This is a different business model to Google which attempts to build profiles based on your activity. Google doesn’t just track your searches; its tentacles are everywhere. By some estimates three-quarters of all websites report your habits back to Google.
This explains why some advertisements stalk you as you navigate the web. In my case it can be surreal. I write about technology, so let’s say I research a story about software defined networking. If I do a lot of researching advertisements for SDNs can dog me for days after. They may drop off, then return later.
While a lot of people don’t care about privacy in this way, others are concerned.
The vast amounts of data Google collects are enough to identify an individual. Thanks to the ability to read most emails, Google knows where you live, what you do and can make assumptions about how much money you earn, what you spend and who you vote for.
Away from privacy, the Duck Duck Go approach has another advantage. Because Google thinks it knows about you and what you want, it uses your profile to send customised search results your way.
This can be useful. It can also be a problem. It means Google searches are not neutral. If I search for a certain term, I may not get the same answers as you.
This isn’t always helpful in my work as a journalist. If I’m doing background research I want the best quality information. There’s no way of knowing that Google’s filters give me that. With Duck Duck Go I would see the same result as you.
Duck Duck Go tricks
Duck Duck Go has a couple of tricks up its sleeve which I find helpful. Let’s say you want to know more about someone you meet on Twitter. Type their address into the search bar and you get a result like this:
The last time I tried Duck Duck Go, I found there wasn’t enough depth of coverage. In particular, it didn’t do a great job of finding New Zealand-specific material.
This hasn’t changed, or if it has changed, it hasn’t changed enough. It can still be frustrating to use at times. During the last month there have been few working days where I didn’t need to switch back to Google to handle a specific search.
Away from New Zealand searches, Duck Duck Go does well enough. It is better than before. One Google feature I miss is the ability to restrict the search to Google News. This is useful for getting straight to publications avoiding sites that are trying to sell things like, say, software defined networks.
Google often seems to be more interested in delivering me to sales outlets than information services. Duck Duck Go doesn’t have a news filter, so a search for SDNs means I have to wade through lots of sales sites to find more independent information. It would be great if a news search was an option.
What the search engine does have is something called bangs. This is a shorthand way of restricting a search to a single site or organisation. So, if I want to look on Bloomberg for information about SDNs, I type:
!blmb software defined networks
This doesn’t always work. My search shown here drew a blank. When I tried the same search using The Economist bang, the browser couldn’t open anything, not even a 404 page.
When I last wrote about Duck Duck Go, I mentioned that I returned to Google because… well it looked as if it was more efficient and finding what I need.
It often still is. Not all the time, but a lot of the time. It depends on what I’m searching for. At other times Duck Duck Go does a better job. The site uses data from Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which, can be just as disappointing.
Duck Duck Go still isn’t the best choice for most searches, but it is a more private choice.