Google has been the go-to, default search engine for all general inquires on the Internet for years. As the Internet has fragmented and compartmentalized itself, other search engines have emerged, but for more “single-serving”, contextual inquires. Like retail (Amazon). Video (YouTube — also owned by Google). Travel (TripAdvisor, Kayak, Hipmunk). Local (Yelp). Voice convenience (Siri, Amazon, Cortana, Google). News (Apple News, Google News). But general search still dominates. It is the reigning entry point to the Internet for many, even though closed ecosystems like Facebook have and continue to threaten the larger, endless Internet, and reform it into a smaller shell of its former self.
But why do so many continue to use Google for general search? As a company with such breadth and ambition, these recent years it has seen unprecedented fallout, mostly around the integrity of its business model: the European Union sued Google (twice, actually), copied Snapchat, permitted invalid ad trafficking, contributed to “inhumane” technological implications, have always and increasingly positioned you as their product, has served fake news and misleading auto-suggestions, aggressively pushed a publisher-hijacked news system that keeps users within the Google ecosystem, and on and on. It still does a sufficient job of surfacing mostly relevant results, but as a company that makes 90% of its revenues from peddling ads, why should you feel it as a trustworthy source of information and handling your data exhaust? Particularly when other search engines exist that can provide the same quality of results?
Aside from a number of advances in paid search, organic search hasn’t been modified in significant ways for years. Updates have been mostly tied to incremental universal search result formats, mobile-specific carousels for easier navigation, arguably convenient “quick answers” that sometimes don’t always state facts or truthfully answer an inquiry. And the reliance on your personal data and search history to attempt machine-learning’s personalization of results doesn’t always equate to a better experience.
If you’re onboard so far, then try DuckDuckGo.
DuckDuckGo (DDG) is a search engine that uses privacy as the gravity for its differentiation from Google and Bing, stemming a number of useful and user-respectful features and services off it. Along the lines of Tristan Harris’s new venture (an ex-Google employee himself), DuckDuckGo is the embodiment of humane technology. While it has many advantages to Google, three are prominent:
- Always-on secure search. DDG requires HTTPS, and even if you use a bang operator (I’ll go over this later), it still sends your inquiries encrypted.
- Anonymity. DDG hides the keywords you use in queries.
- Most importantly, DDG does not track you or peddle personalized results via personal behavior aggregation like Google and Bing do.
Beyond Just Private “Search”
In addition to maintaining your privacy while providing more than sufficient results, DuckDuckGo also has built-in niceties that Google or Bing do not:
- They enable you to use search shortcuts (called bangs) to jump into a search across other places like Google (!g), Google Maps (!gm), Wikipedia (!w), Amazon (!a), and others. All you do is type the bang shortcut, space, and then whatever your query is, and DDG will send you to the results page inside the target engine (so it’ll jump you into Google Maps or Amazon) via — most importantly, when applicable — an encrypted session.
- DDG provides fantastic browser plug-ins and apps for accurately blocking ads and other intrusions in your web browsing, most notably trackers. These trackers monitor your activity across the internet, attempting to sync behaviors back to advertisers and other companies to stitch together your activity profile for selling you ads and selling each other data about you, for which, of course, you are paid nothing.
- Sick of the blue links in results? There are themes you can choose from to apply refinements to your experience. Nice.
- They make their money off ads and affiliate marketing. But they are not gathering profiles about their users, or mining data elsewhere.
Try It As Your Default Search Engine
Unless you blindly trust Google, there is no harm in trying a new search engine for a week. Here are the easiest ways to try DDG, even if not indefinitely. By the fifth day, you probably will forget you’re using a different search engine, and be better off for it.
- Visit their website, bookmark it or set it as your homepage in your browser of choice, and you’re good to go.
- Set as default in iOS:
- Go to Settings
- Select Safari > Search Engine
- Select DuckDuckGo
- Set as default in Android:
- Unfortunately Android doesn’t allow you to add DDG as a default, so you have to download the DuckDuckGo app and use it instead. Should tell you something right there.
- Set as default in Chrome
- Go to chrome://settings/searchEngines.
- Go to Other Search Engines
- Type "DuckDuckGo" in the box for Add a new search engine
- Type "duckduckgo.com" in the box for Keyword
- Copy and paste https://duckduckgo.com/?q=%s into the URL
- Click "Make Default" when you mouse over the custom search engine.
Just try it. I switched at the beginning of 2017 on every web browser I use, and it has yet to disappoint.