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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.

Expand chart
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.

Go deeper

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.

9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Kaine, Collins pitch Senate colleagues on censuring Trump

Sen. Tim Kaine speaks with Sen. Susan Collins. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine and Susan Collins are privately pitching their colleagues on a bipartisan resolution censuring former President Trump, three sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction in his second impeachment.