The original version of this post is available at ARLIS/NA Multimedia and Technology Reviews. I am very grateful to Emilee Mathews, whose editorial work contributed immeasurably to the readability of this article.
DuckDuckGo is a Web search site that competes with Google, Bing, and other major players. DuckDuckGo’s premise, and its major competitive advantage, is its commitment to user privacy—and backs up that commitment through its powerful, accurate, and flexible searching capabilities.
DuckDuckGo ensures privacy for users because it does not do the following:
- collect any personal information
- log any CGI data that identifies your computer
- save your search queries
- share your search terms with the sites you visit from DuckDuckGo’s results pages.
You’re sitting there thinking, “OK, whatever, I know I’m supposed to care about this, but really?”. Well, then, consider my results on the EFF’s Panopticlick, which gauges how specifically your browser can be identified strictly from settings that it will share with any web server it contacts (click to enlarge):
This shows my browser to be unique among more than 5 Million—vividly demonstrating how much information can be unknowingly shared. Are you hearing this? I haven’t entered anything about myself and already Panopticlick, just by reading what my browser will share with any website, can distinguish my setup from every other computer that’s visited it. The message is: we are easily identifiable, online.
Another argument I hear frequently is that we already share so much on social media that it can’t hurt also to share our search queries. But many of us are cautious on social media with queries about health issues, breaking our leases, or looking for new jobs, while we don’t hesitate to enter those terms at Web search engines. It’s time to think more critically about what we use to browse and search.
Is DuckDuckGo any good? As good as DuckDuckGo may be with your privacy, few people will make the switch if its results aren’t comparable to Google’s. Many reviewers (e.g., see Fast Company’s write-up) have lauded DuckDuckGo’s results, so to highlight:
- DuckDuckGo’s basic results and suggested results compete with Google’s and are superior to Bing’s.
- DuckDuckGo excels at identifying official results (e.g., search for “NYPL”) and ranking them highly.
- DuckDuckGo doesn’t personalize results, which is generally better for information professionals and other humans.
- However, Google still outperforms on searches that leverage its other properties–for example, search for your flight on Google, and you’ll get an instant result with the current departure time.
- Google’s results often surpass DuckDuckGo’s as search topics become more esoteric.
It’s that last one that gets you, right? Ultimately, we’re all special, and if any of our searches are special enough that only Google can do a great job with them, we’ll set Google as the default and use it even when investigating that weird forgetfulness that’s probably nothing. But, in addition to providing generally high quality results, DuckDuckGo has an ace up its sleeve in its “!bang” commands—simple keyboard controls for controlling search scope. By typing keystrokes for websites, like “!a” (Amazon), “!w” (Wikipedia), and “!nypl” (New York Public Library”), you’ll get results from those site’s own searches; it also works for subjects, like “!images,” which are limited to the subject domain. With a browser’s search default set to DuckDuckGo and just a few of these commands, web searching is much faster and better than with any single search engine.
So here’s why you don’t need Google anymore, even though only the best search engine is good enough for your super-special speciality: DuckDuckGo’s killer app is !g, which searches Google while affording all of DuckDuckGo’s privacy protections. That means what it sounds like: with DuckDuckGo and !g, searchers can use Google completely privately, more easily than typing “https://encrypted.google.com.”
With so many strengths across the board, setting DuckDuckGo as the default search engine for your browser seems more and more worthwhile. Plus, on the occasion that its results are unsatisfactory, or when you suspect they won’t be, using “!g [search terms]” is easy.
So change your default search engine. No pain, lots of gain.