DuckDuckGo; illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET

DuckDuckGo: What You Need To Know About Google’s Private Search Competitor

Most of us have experienced the unpleasant aspect of online tracking. As you know, you look for a pair of shoes and then you see advertisements for that same shoe that follow you to the edge of the internet. Sometimes you may want to protect a little privacy in your online experience. Enter DuckDuckGo. A search engine that promises to keep your browsing activity anonymous and untracked online.

Other private browsers, like Brave, block third-party cookies and trackers that monitor your activity while you browse the web. However, DuckDuckGo, which is increasingly investing in ad campaigns, sees itself as a direct competitor to Google Search with mobile apps and extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and other browsers.

After major events like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, people have become more aware of the amount of personal information available to tech companies and advertisers, choosing not to track it as much as possible, as it can be tracked through of Apple’s iOS 14.5. Although it doesn’t track users, the DuckDuckGo app was downloaded more than 50 million times last year alone. That’s more than every other year combined since its launch 13 years ago.

Here’s what you need to know about DuckDuckGo and how it works to make your browsing safer.

What is Duck Duck Go?

DuckDuckGo is a search engine that offers a mobile browser app and a desktop extension, both of which aim to allow businesses to browse the internet without consuming your personal data. It makes it more difficult for the sites you visit to collect information about you because it keeps your searches private and anonymous and provides built-in tracking protection.

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How does DuckDuckGo work?

First of all, DuckDuckGo does not track searches made through browser extensions or mobile apps. Other browsers, including Chrome, don’t track your browsing history, but you can use a private or incognito window that tracks your main window. (This is the basis of all the awkward jokes about ‘in your search history’). DuckDuckGo doesn’t track your browsing history, instead switching to different versions of the app.

Searches made through DuckDuckGo will also automatically link you to an encrypted version of the website when possible, making it difficult for others to see what you’re looking for online. This is another scenario where different search engines have both options (encrypted and unencrypted), but the default option is not always privacy friendly. DuckDuckGo provides an additional step to manually navigate to an encrypted connection.

DuckDuckGo came under fire in May when researchers discovered that some Microsoft tracking scripts had been aggregated into Bing-based aggregate search results for DuckDuckGo. The existence of Microsoft trackers seems to contradict the privacy promises of search engines. However, DuckDuckGo previously disclosed a partnership with Microsoft that powers the DuckDuckGo search engine, including the information that is tracked when you click on Microsoft ads. And DuckDuckGo has an edge over other popular privacy options when it comes to blocking tracking data.

DuckDuckGo also actively blocks external trackers from following you online. For a detailed explanation of DuckDuckGo’s privacy features, please see the DuckDuckGo blog.

The DuckDuckGo search engine emphasizes privacy.

How is DuckDuckGo different from Google Search? How about incognito mode and private browsing?

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DuckDuckGo takes a counter approach to other big tech companies like Google and Facebook, which traditionally make money by targeting ads based primarily on your browsing history and personal data. Although Google has said it will stop this practice, the platform still collects a lot of data about its users, including their location and browsing activity, even in incognito mode.

Incognito mode removes information about your browsing session from your computer, such as your browsing history, cookies, and any information you enter into fields. Specifically, do this only after logging out by closing all tabs. So if you keep your incognito tabs open for hours or days, that information will continue to accumulate. And in any case, Google can save your searches, and companies, ISPs, and governments can still track you online, even when you’re in incognito mode.

DuckDuckGo is different in that it does not save any browsing data and blocks trackers while you browse.

If you are new to DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser, the app will guide you through the different ways to protect your privacy.

How does DuckDuckGo monetize if it doesn’t target ads?

DuckDuckGo still monetizes its ads. We don’t just use targeted advertising. Search engines display ads based on search keywords that are not associated with personal data, such as search history or purchase history. Basically, you’ll only see ads for all the ads you’re currently seeing, not the weird product a friend sent you a link to last week, and now you can’t help it.

How to use DuckDuckGo?

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Open the App Store on your mobile device and search for “DuckDuckGo”. You can download and use the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser app the same way you use Chrome or Safari. You will see a fire icon at the bottom center of the app, you can close all tabs and delete all personal data at any time by tapping on this icon.

Go to from your desktop and you will see a button to add DuckDuckGo to your browser. Chrome will take you to the Chrome Web Store page where you can download extensions for free. Safari explains how to set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine or how to manually enable search using DuckDuckGo.

For more on protecting your privacy online, check out what browser privacy settings you need to change now, how to stop iPhone apps from tracking you, and the best password managers of 2021.

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