Search Data, The Most Personal Data

Gabriel Weinberg
Founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo

It's a long known secret that Google and other notable search engines, track all users' activities to uniquely identify them. Their policy in which users agree in order to use their services, are deliberately isolating people out of their own personal space.

As one of the most appealing Google alternative, DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn't track its users. What it does, almost mirrors other search engines except for one thing: it doesn't save any information about its users.

Riding opposing the wave is extremely hard for DuckDuckGo, especially in its early stages in life. When the world likes things crafted automatically for them, people are getting spoiled by the ease of information available on the internet. But what goes behind the scene is, internet companies are storing data about users to show what they think is best for them.

DuckDuckGo hasn't got that much popularity before Edward Snowden first leaked his revelations. But when he did, people are becoming more concerned about their privacy and their data being stored by search engines.

DuckDuckGo's founder Gabriel Weinberg first noticed the search engine's web traffic building massively on June 6, almost immediately after the Snowden's revelations about PRISM. Through the program, the U.S.'s National Security Agency (NSA) claimed to have "direct access" to the servers of companies including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!.

"It happened with the release by The Guardian about PRISM," said Weinberg. "We started seeing an increase right when the story broke, before we were covered in the press." From serving 1.7 million searches a day at the start of June, DuckDuckGo hit 3 million searches within a fortnight.

This was a undeniable evidence that people are seeking for better alternative to do searches, and they ultimately understand that searches are somehow able to expose their vulnerabilities. And people don't like others know what they search and do on the internet.

The reason Weinberg decided DuckDuckGo to not store search data was because it reveals so much about people. Google uses many factors to differentiate its users. From login sessions, cookies, personal data, IP address and more. By having all those information, Google can make money out of it by selling ads that follow users everywhere on the internet.

Search data, Weinberg says, "is arguably the most personal data people are entering into anything. You're typing in your problems, your desires. It's not the same as things you post publicly on a social network."

Because DuckDuckGo doesn't use cookies or store data about its users' IP addresses, doesn't offer user credentials to fill in, and uses an encrypted connection by default, it stands to face Google in the competition using its own method.

As DuckDuckGo has become 'smarter' by the day, the company acknowledged that having data is essential to perform better task in delivering answers to search queries, for example. But what DuckDuckGo do, is to not tie any information its users enters, back to them.

"You can still get a lot of useful data without tying it back to users. You can see what people search for and you may have to guess a little more, but you can still get a lot out of it," said Weinberg.

Privacy is a mainstream motivator. Once people are educated, and learned about mistakes in putting over-than-necessary information about themselves on the internet, they eventually care more about their well-being on the web.

"Our argument has been we're producing better search results, actually. So, that's the real argument to use us. Instant answers, less spam, less clutter. Privacy has been a focus, but it's more of a motivator to get you to try us out rather than the reason to stay with us," continued Weinberg. "We're trying to offer an alternative in search."