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Google + Privacy = DuckDuckGo?



DuckDuckGo is a search engine alternative to Google that differentiates itself through a focus on privacy. Unlike Google, which delivers advertisements and search results based in part by tracking on your online habits on other websites, DuckDuckGo gathers its search results from over 400 different sources. These include anything from Wikipedia to Wolfram Alpha to StackOverflow to DuckDuckBot, the engine’s own crawler. Like Google, DuckDuckGo’s profitability comes mainly from advertisements, as well as affiliate marketing.

The PageRank system used by DuckDuckGo is a hybrid approach that initially uses the ranking of the underlying APIs, but includes a layer of intelligence via an algorithm that re-ranks, omits, and merges results to produce better answers. The 400 sources that DuckDuckGo utilizes are a mix of crowd-sourced websites and other search engines. According to Caine Tighe, CTO of DDG, there is usually a vertical search engine that will deliver better results for any given search compared to a blanket search engine like Google. By combing through hundreds of vertical search engines, DuckDuckGo will ideally be able to extract the most relevant results.

Google’s PageRank system tracks users’ online activity, which allows the search engine to provide ads based on users’ activity on other sites. The targeted ads come from businesses that are part of Google’s extensive AdWords network. For example, when I google “clothes,” I get advertisements for clothing websites that are targeted towards young women, such as Urban Outfitters and H&M, as well as a section of google maps that shows clothing stores near my location in Ithaca. In contrast, when I type “clothes” into the search bar in DuckDuckGo, the first search result is the definition of clothing from Wikipedia and includes more varied results such as Zappos, Overstock, and Gap. While the DuckDuckGo search results did also include a few female-focused clothing stores, this may be because women tend to search for clothes at a higher rate than men. DuckDuckGo’s ad system provides advertisements based solely on the keywords that were typed in the search bar rather than the person who typed them. In this little test, Google provided the most relevant results, obviously because I had been on female-focused clothing store websites before and made purchases at specific stores that ended up appearing in the search results. The future of DuckDuckGo will depend on whether its business model based on privacy will be enough to warrant switching from Google’s search engine. As online privacy concerns have surfaced, it seems like DuckDuckGo provides a safer alternative.


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