Are you tired of Googling something and having ads pop up for that exact item for months afterward? It's caused by most search engines keeping track of your online activity — zeroing in on shopping habits so they can promote products you're likely to buy.
If you're looking for a little privacy when you're just browsing randomly, Yahoo and Bing are no better than Google — but DuckDuckGo could be the solution. Founded in 2008 by MIT grad Gabriel Weinberg, DuckDuckGo is a free search engine that claims to keep all search activity anonymous, which stops third-party merchants from tracking you.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How does it work?
DuckDuckGo does not track searches made through its browser extension or mobile app, unlike other browsers. And while those commonly used browsers — including Google Chrome — have features such as private or incognito modes that suggest they won't track your search history, user lawsuits and debate by Google employees cast doubt on their value. The only thing these modes are definitely good for is not revealing your searches to someone else who might later use your computer. DuckDuckGo never tracks use, and doesn't make you toggle between different versions to access a private mode. “Each time you search on DuckDuckGo, you have a blank search history, as if you’ve never been there before,” the company says. (Because who hasn't googled some embarrassing things before?)
Searches made through DuckDuckGo also connect you automatically to encrypted versions of websites wherever possible — making it harder for others to see what you're looking at — and entirely blocks cookies from tracking you. This is another example in which encrypted and unencrypted options might exist on other search engines, but the default is usually not private. DuckDuckGo saves you the step of having to navigate between options.
- Will it slow down my computer?
DuckDuckGo says its homepage runs at the same speed as Google, so you shouldn't experience lags or excessive load times. But if you're looking for a much faster browsing alternative, DuckDuckGo offers a Lite search option that trims use from 2 Mbps (Megabits per second) to just 33 Kbps (kilobits per second). For reference, 1 Mbps is equal to 250 kbps. With the Lite option, the only elements that will show on your browser will be the search bar and the DuckDuckGo name — all ads and other images will be stripped away.
Additionally, DuckDuckGo Lite needs to make only a few requests to populate the search results page, while its default page makes at least 50 and Google makes 100 or more. Those smaller numbers result in near-instantaneous loading times; think milliseconds, rather than seconds.
What might slow you down: Because DuckDuckGo does not collect or save anything from your search history, every time you open the browser, it will be a clean slate. This means none of your passwords or usernames will be saved automatically; you'll have to log in again every time you use the browser — or use third-party software designed to remember your passwords separately.
- Is it safe to use?
According to experts, DuckDuckGo is fairly safe and offers a lot more privacy when compared with mainstream browsers. With search privacy being the main selling point, DuckDuckGo makes sure none of your user data or search history is tracked. Unlike Google's Chrome or Apple's Safari browsers, it doesn't associate what you're searching for with your IP address, which means you won’t be bombarded with personalized ads.
As with any other browser, DuckDuckGo is still susceptible to viruses, malware, and online threats. Be mindful of what you download from the internet, as certain links carry malicious software that can damage your computer.
- What is it compatible with?
DuckDuckGo's search engine is available for free installation on Android and iOS (Mac) devices. While a Windows version is still being developed, you can install the search tool as an extension on other browsers — including Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Safari.
- How does DuckDuckGo make money?
Because DuckDuckGo does not track or sell your information to third-party merchants, its main source of income stems from featured advertisements on its main search page. Similar to Google and other mainstream browsers, the ads you'll see will align to what you search for — but only to the search you just did. You won't be followed by ads in that category the next day, or haunted by them for the next months.
- Is it worth it?
If search privacy is your top priority, DuckDuckGo is a solid option. If you prefer the convenience of having your passwords and usernames saved on your browser, conventional browsers are likely better suited for your online needs.
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