Is DuckDuckGo Really Private? [Features and Concerns]

Daniel Attoe
Daniel Attoe

Updated · Jan 27, 2023

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In your search for online privacy, you might get confused because of the various privacy tools that are available. One of the tools offering great online protection is DuckDuckGo.

But is DuckDuckGo really private? While the tool offers great online protection, it is not completely private. Read on to find out more!

What is DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo is one of the best Internet search engines, whose priority is to look after users’ privacy. DuckDuckGo doesn’t track you, and it has a desktop version and a mobile browser app.

The company was founded in 2008 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Every year, the company does something new to stay on top, such as the 2016 Yahoo partnership. This collaboration brought features like additional site links and results’ date filtering.

DuckDuckGo allows you to take charge of your private information on the Internet. Their goal is to demonstrate that privacy protection is easy and accessible. That's why, over the years, the company upgraded its technology and even collaborated with policymakers.

What Does DuckDuckGo Do?

DuckDuckGo offers anonymity and personal data safety. Unlike Chrome, where the default window tracks your searches, DuckDuckGo never records your search history. Since DuckDuckGo immediately links you to encrypted sites, your online activities remain hidden.

You may wonder why you’d need a privacy-protected search engine if you can simply use Google’s Incognito mode. However, in the DuckDuckGo vs. Incognito showdown, DuckDuckGo saves you time you’d spend manually adjusting incognito navigation and prevents external trackers.

You might be interested in: DuckDuckGo Will Now Help You Block Trackers

Is DuckDuckGo Really Private?

DuckDuckGo lowers ad tracking, prevents filter bubbles, and provides custom search results. However, we can’t say that it’s 100% private as it doesn’t protect you from surveillance organizations

Edward Snowden raised public awareness of privacy, especially from government surveillance agencies. He recommended using private search engines to avoid tracking. Nevertheless, he also insisted on using other measures for data protection to ensure that you have complete privacy protection.

DuckDuckGo vs. Google

Due to big data and tech conglomerates, the level of control they have increased, which led to searching for more privacy solutions. Although Google has more users than DuckDuckGo, many are leaving Google for DuckDuckGo. 

Compared to Google, DuckDuckGo offers flawless privacy protection, blocks search-based ads, and it doesn’t store your search history. The major difference is that DuckDuckGo doesn’t store your IP address. In fact, it doesn’t collect any information about you.

Similarly, DuckDuckGo protects you from Facebook tracking. Thanks to the App Tracking Protection tool, DuckDuckGo blocks third-party trackers. Facebook can’t follow your online activity and provide customized advertising or make behavioral profiles.

How Does DuckDuckGo Protect Your Privacy?

Here are some DuckDuckGo features that help you stay private while you browse the web:

  1. Third-party trackers: When visiting a website, the URL in your search bar shows the browser where to take you. However, until your page opens, sites load other URLs, which usually belong to other companies called third parties. 

DuckDuckGo can block Microsoft scripts in third-party apps on Android and iOS and in extensions like Chrome, Edge, Opera, Safari, and Firefox.

  1. Search history: While other search engines keep the data and time of your search along with the search information, DuckDuckGo decided not to gather any information from your searches. 

After all, your search history is a private matter, and even when companies have the best intentions, data can leak. Thus, with DuckDuckGo, your searches are safe and can’t be linked back to you.

  1. No profiling: Unlike other search engines, DuckDuckGo doesn’t use cookies or store your IP address. Therefore, DuckDuckGo can’t create a profile based on your searches, and nothing you do online can be tied to you.
  1. Encrypted searches: A connection between a website you’re visiting and your device should be encrypted at all times, a feat achieved by using a hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS), which prevents data theft. 

DuckDuckGo automatically uses this protocol. This gives you an extra layer of security while browsing and is a much better way to protect yourself than most of DuckDuckGo’s competitors’ solutions. 

  1. Less spam: DuckDuckGo removes spam and ads while using sources with meta descriptions and titles written by people, not PCs. Moreover, DuckDuckGo, with the Parked Domain Project, crawls the web to eliminate spam from its search results. Unlike Google, which uses algorithms, DuckDuckGo uses human resources to remove spam.
  1. Safe search: This is the most popular DuckDuckGo feature. Unlike search engines which gather cookies, IP addresses, and device information, DuckDuckGo keeps your searches anonymous. The untracked search also works for all the pages you open. DuckDuckGo blocks cookies; therefore, they can’t gather your data.

The DuckDuckGo - Microsoft Controversy

Although DuckDuckGo is an anonymous search engine, it has been a subject of privacy controversy. Security researcher, Zach Edwards, discovered an agreement between DuckDuckGo and Microsoft where the first allows the latter to use trackers when people visit 3rd parties sites through the browser

This allowed Microsoft and Microsoft-owned domains, like LinkedIn and Bing, to track your IP address when you follow a link.

Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo, said on Twitter that the company couldn’t fully control Microsoft’s properties because of the terms of the agreement. He insisted that this is something that is continually being improved. 

Sure enough, in early August 2022, DuckDuckGo expanded its third-party tracker loading protection to include third-party Microsoft tracking scripts

Other DuckDuckGo Privacy Issues

Here are some other privacy concerns you should know about before switching to this browser:

  • DuckDuckGo doesn’t offer privacy on a local level

We certainly know that DuckDuckGo doesn’t connect your searches to your personal information, but anyone who comes across your computer can see your searches in your browsing history. 

Of course, this is not acceptable for a browser that claims to be completely anonymous. A private search engine should save your searches in encrypted form, and the encryption key should expire when you finish your search. 

This is, indeed, considered a minor issue since you can always manually remove browsing history. However, this could be a potentially bigger issue for those who are less tech-savvy and may not realize they’re not completely protected.

  • DuckDuckGo highlights already visited pages

If you search for specific information via DuckDuckGo and then select one of the results, it will take you to that site. However, if you go back to DuckDuckGo to search for the same or similar thing, the search results you’ve already clicked will be highlighted.

This might seem helpful at first, but it raises privacy concerns because anyone who uses your computer can see what websites you've opened.

  • DuckDuckGo !bangs affect your privacy

!bangs are DuckDuckGo shortcuts you can use to search for items on other sites. For instance, the !bang for Amazon is !a, so if you want to find something on Amazon, you can search for it directly via the DuckDuckGo browser by typing “!a something” instead of navigating to Amazon first, typing the term there, and then selecting it. 

Unfortunately, no warning states that using these shortcuts will cost you your privacy, as you’re redirected to sites that can track your information.

Pros and Cons of DuckDuckGo

Let’s take a look at some additional pros and cons that come with using this search engine:

Pros:

  • No filter bubble: DDG provides uniform results. DuckDuckGo shows identical search results to all. This is different compared to other browsers that can show different results for two different people based on their browsing history and profiling.
  • No search leakage: Since your personal information is protected, you’ll be safe from data breaches and search leakage. DuckDuckGo doesn’t pass your data to third parties, or use it for marketing purposes.
  • Ad-free browsing: Although DuckDuckGo doesn’t interrupt your activities with ads based on your past searches, some ads still might appear based on certain keywords. However, you can turn them off from Settings.
  • Secure browsing: Since DuckDuckGo blocks tracking cookies, encrypts your searches, and doesn’t keep your IP address, you can feel safe while performing actions such as online banking.

Cons:

  • No personalization: While this is a good thing as it ensures you’re not being profiled, it does mean your results are not personalized. This might leave you with less relevant results and you’ll possibly have to scroll down a lot.
  • No virus protection included: With DuckDuckGo you’re still vulnerable to malware, ransomware, viruses and other threats. 
  • Not as handy as Google: DuckDuckGo comes with less convenience as it lacks integrated services like Google Maps or Gmail.

Why Do You Still Need a VPN For DuckDuckGo?

We know that DuckDuckGo doesn’t keep your search results or browsing history. However, your ISP can still access your browser history and IP address if you don’t use a VPN.

The two main reasons why you still need a VPN with DuckDuckGo are:

  • To bypass geo constraints and censorship: DuckDuckGo is blocked in China and India. Since the VPN changes the IP address, anyone from those countries can access DuckDuckGo with a VPN.
  • To get complete privacy: Even if DuckDuckGo offers protection, it’s not a VPN. The best way to get total privacy is to combine DuckDuckGo and a VPN so anything you do online will be encrypted.

Bottom Line

In a nutshell, DuckDuckGo is a popular alternative to your preferred search engine. It offers untracked and ad-free browsing. While the benefits of using DuckDuckGo outweigh the drawbacks, you might still wonder, “Is DuckDuckGo really private?” 

Although DuckDuckGo is a privacy-focused search engine, you’ll likely still need a VPN for best results. Stay safe!

FAQs.


Does DuckDuckGo track you?

DuckDuckGo never tracks your browsing history.

Is DuckDuckGo legit?

Yes! DuckDuckGo is legit and safe.

Is DuckDuckGo Anonymous?

DuckDuckGo is an anonymous, privacy-focused search engine.

Does DuckDuckGo hide your IP?

DuckDuckGo doesn’t store IP addresses or other identifiers.

Does DuckDuckGo hide from the ISP?

Unfortunately, without a VPN, your ISP can still monitor your online activities.

Does DuckDuckGo have a VPN?

DuckDuckGo is not a VPN, but is DuckDuckGo really private? The short answer is yes, but it is best combined with a VPN. Using these two together will provide complete privacy.

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Daniel Attoe

Daniel Attoe

Daniel is an Economics grad who fell in love with tech. His love for books and reading pushed him into picking up the pen - and keyboard. Also a data analyst, he's taking that leap into data science and machine learning. When not writing or studying, chances are that you'll catch him watching football or face-deep in an epic fantasy novel.

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