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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

Updated 4 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

5 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.