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DuckDuckGo goes after Google with privacy-friendly browsing tools

DuckDuckGo started a decade ago as a privacy-friendly search engine alternative to Google that doesn't collect your personal information. Now, facing the data-collection dominance of Facebook and Google, it's seeing anonymous searching spike and is expanding beyond the search box.

Reproduced from DuckDuckGo; Chart: Axios Visuals

Why it matters: Google and Facebook track individuals' online behavior to tailor advertising based on those preferences. With data breaches on the rise, along with concerns over election manipulation through targeted ads, DuckDuckGo is pitching itself as an "internet privacy company" by launching encrypted private browsing that blocks trackers.

By the numbers:

  • In 2017, DuckDuckGo saw nearly 6 billion private searches, a 50% increase over 2016.
  • The search engine saw daily private searches increase 55% over the course of 2017, to 19 million daily searches by the end of the year.
  • Those numbers pale in comparison to Google's 3.5 billion daily searches.

Growing interest: DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg said he first saw an increase in traffic after Edward Snowden leaked NSA documents in 2013. He saw a larger shift in the public's attitude toward online privacy after the 2016 election, when people started to realize the "more pernicious effects of the filter bubble" driven by personal data profiles.

  • "There's starting to be a critical mass of people educated enough about how trackers and this ecosystem works to want to do something about it," Weinberg told Axios.

How it works: DuckDuckGo is releasing today browser extensions and mobile app for the major platforms — Firefox, Safari, Chrome, iOS and Android. It will also give a "privacy grade" for every site you visit, including how many trackers were working behind the scenes.

  • The new tools block the trackers on websites, not the ads themselves.
  • "The media industry is beholden to Google and Facebook," as sites feel like they have to do more tracking to keep up, Weinberg said. "We're hoping to break up that duopoly up and make some incentives for not having to continually do more and more micro-targeting."

Our thought bubble: Big Tech's troubles provide an opening for smaller firms that want to offer an alternative to how the tech giants do business.