DuckDuckGo, the alternative search engine that respects your privacy, has rolled out some impressive new features that will soon be integrated into their non-beta offerings. Chief among them are news and image searches that appear automatically for relevant search terms, much like chief rival Google.
The beta version, hosted at next.duckduckgo.com, launched just over a week ago. While DuckDuckGo has been around for a while, they have mentioned various times on their forum that they have increased their development pace due to a large influx of users in the past year. This is almost certainly related to the NSA surveillance allegations.
Two of the most-requested features from users have been a Google-like image search and news search. In the new version, which should leave beta in a matter of weeks, these features do exist and are working fairly well. First let’s take a look at a search query that should give us news results. With the standard/old DuckDuckGo, this is what you get for a “Malaysia Airlines” search:
These aren’t useless results, by any stretch. You see one of DuckDuckGo’s selling features, which is the packaged “answer” from Wikipedia at the top of your results. Some of the results in the search are, in fact, news articles as well. Likewise, you can see just below the “answer” box Malaysia Airline’s official site, which DuckDuckGo highlights as such to keep you from being confused when you’re looking for that.
Chances are, though, that you’d search for Malaysia Airlines looking for the latest news. Let’s look at what happens when you search on the beta version:
As you can see, the top row of results automatically shows you recent news along with clear labeling of the source and the time it was posted. If it isn’t what you’re looking for, you have “normal” search results below it as well as tabs to navigate to images, videos, or an “about” tab that gives you the Wikipedia-esque info you saw in the original version.
DuckDuckGo, like any search engine, uses algorithms to determine (or guess, basically) what kind of information you are looking for with your search term. In the “old” DuckDuckGo, there was no attempt to determine whether you were searching for news. You could include the word “news” in your search and get news results, but otherwise that just wasn’t part of the calculation. Now, to better compete with the likes of Google, it will include news results when its algorithms deem it appropriate.
Additionally, you can see that there has been a visual redesign that puts DuckDuckGo in line with typical Web 2.0 interfaces.
The other key feature addition is image (and video) search. Before, you could sort of search for images with DuckDuckGo; if you put “!gi” or “!bi” plus your search term you would be redirected to a Google or Bing image search, respectively, with your personal data scrubbed out so that the search engines didn’t know who referred you there. Now, you can search for images through DuckDuckGo.
So when I do an image search for GeekSided, I get our logo as the first result and a bevy of images that we have featured in our articles and related articles on FanSided. Works like a charm.
And these really just scratch the surface of the new features and improvements included in the refresh of DuckDuckGo.
Why do people use DuckDuckGo, anyway? Well, more and more people have become privacy-conscious as the Internet has begun to grow up. Especially after the NSA revelations, interest in increasing privacy across the web has skyrocketed. According to DuckDuckGo’s traffic reports, their direct monthly traffic has gone from 630,000 per day in January 2012 to 1.6 million in January 2013 and all the way up 4.4 million in January 2014. So far this month, DuckDuckGo has averaged 5.3 million direct visitors per day.
DuckDuckGo has created the simple site DontTrack.Us to explain how easy it can be for your search history to be turned against you, so I won’t try to top it here. Basically, search engines typically collect your search history by using a combination of your account (that makes it easy), your IP address, and information about your browser to gradually build up a profile about you that they can use as they wish, generally to target ads to you.
- If you change search settings, those will be stored in a browser cookie on your computer that lacks any identifying information. This way, you get the settings you want, but even if someone intercepted that cookie, they wouldn’t know who it belonged to.
- Cookies can also be used to store which “!bangs” you use on a regular basis. !bangs are shortcuts that you can type into your search like !a (Amazon products), !wiki (Wikipedia), or !m (maps). There are hundreds of them, so I won’t bother naming them all.
You can opt-out of even this minimal and safe data storage (that happens on your machine).
DuckDuckGo makes money mainly by selling ads. Huh? They sell ads that are not micro-targeted to users. Instead, the maximum of one ad per page that you may see is chosen based on the search term only. That’s plenty of information to generate a relevant advertisement in most cases and the advertiser never knows who it was that searched for that term, in case they are trying to build profiles themselves.
The other method by which DuckDuckGo earns money is by earning commission on certain goods bought from their searches. For instance, if you search for a computer on DuckDuckGo, click on the Amazon link to it, then buy it, DuckDuckGo will get a small cut of that purchase. This involves no user tracking – the link you click on has a code that identifies it as a link from DuckDuckGo, so Amazon knows where the commission goes. DuckDuckGo never knows who it is that clicks on their links and Amazon doesn’t learn any more about you than they do the rest of the times you go to their site. They explain:
We do not use any third parties to do the code insertion, and we do not work with any sites that share personally identifiable information (e.g. name, address, etc.) via their affiliate programs. This means that no information is shared from DuckDuckGo to the sites, and the only information that is collected from this process is product information, which is not tied to any particular user and which we do not save or store on our end…we can see anonymous product info such that we cannot tie them to any particular person (or even tie multiple purchases together). This whole affiliate process is an attempt to keep advertising to a minimal level on DuckDuckGo.
That’s about as consumer-friendly as such a policy can be. The myriad ways that your privacy is protected when using DuckDuckGo are too numerous to outline here, but it’s all available on their website.
This is not to say that privacy is the only reason to use DuckDuckGo, either. Rather, in many cases it simply does a better job than other search engines and its smart answering scheme is only getting better with the additions of automatic news searching and image search.