Privacy Engine DuckDuckGo Has Re-Launched – Do Searchers Even Care?

Privacy is now top of mind for all major search engines, but one – DuckDuckGo- seems to be beating out even Google in this regard. In the wake of the “Right to be Forgotten” and “Keyword Not Provided” announcements, Google is being forced to answer to widespread consumer privacy demands.

However, DuckDuckGo and its recent re-release, is cemented in a foundation of user privacy, and if the search engine really catches on among users, Google may be forced to play catch up.

DuckDuckGo offers two elements of privacy that consciously diverge from Google’s search model:

  • First, it’s not that DuckDuckGo chooses not to share private information like referring keywords; it’s that DuckDuckGo doesn’t collect private information at all. This isn’t just a PR move, either; they go to some extreme lengths to ensure they don’t collect it including sending clicks through a secure redirect to obscure keyword referrer information and programming servers to explicitly NOT collect searcher IP addresses. They position this as protecting searchers’ history from both third party profile compilation and legal requests.
  •  Next, they also expanded their concept of private search to include the way their search algorithm actually works. Unlike Google, which uses your past searches to bubble up similarly oriented information (Fox News to some, MSNBC to others), DuckDuckGo chooses not to create a personalized “information bubble” that can skew a searcher’s perception of reality.  For Google, this level of personalization – the information bubble itself – is a competitive advantage. After all, your results become more and more targeted to what unique users want to see.  DuckDuckGo has taken the opposite approach by positioning its job as a search engine to be more of an unbiased source of information than the provider of answers/solutions which are inherently subject to a kind of observer bias.

What I’m not able to predict is how much either of these factors matter to consumers/searchers and if it will drive DuckDuckGo up the ranks of top search engines.  According to comScore’s April 2014 search engine rankings; there were 18.6 Billion monthly industry searches, with the top five engines being:

  •  Google Sites – 12.6 billion searches/mo
  • Bing/MS Sites – 3.5 billion searches/mo
  • Yahoo Sites – 1.9 billion searches/mo
  • Ask Network – 445 million searches/mo
  • AOL, Inc. – 243 million searches/mo

If DuckDuckGo is at approximately 5M searches per day (150M searches/month), they’re still roughly in the #10 spot of search engine query volume behind sites like wow.com and infospace.com.  They’ll need to double that to join the top 5 search engine list.

Will their focus on privacy be enough to drive this growth? I don’t think consumers will be attracted to DuckDuckGo to avoid “information bubbles” and, if consumers haven’t been offended by Google’s data collection/lack of privacy to date, I don’t know that the simple presence of an alternative search engine alone will make a big difference in their market share.  There needs to be some external factor to build awareness of DuckDuckGo and give consumers a reason or easy way to adopt the new engine. One thing that could drive searchers to a privacy-minded site like DuckDuckGo would be a move by businesses to adopt tracking-free search as a part of their security requirements / risk avoidance policies.   Since much of consumers’ online interests are expressed during business hours, this business requirement might be the thing that makes the real “ding” in Google’s numbers.

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Another external factor that could drive adoption of the DuckDuckGo engine would be a major OS manufacturer deciding to offer the engine as a search engine and privacy option as Apple announced they would do on June 2, 2014. This announcement was a huge win for DuckDuckGo. The privacy DuckDuckGo provides is now positioned as part of what consumers need to do to protect their hardware investment and, while Google will still be Safari’s default search provider, if Apple and Google continue to battle it out, DuckDuckGo is positioned to become the default search engine for the OS.

This is exactly the type of external factor the new engine needs to take market share from the current big five search providers.

Will DuckDuckGo continue to grow and become a “Google killer”? It’s impossible to say their features alone will attract a mass audience but, given the company’s ability to market those features within the Apple OS and, perhaps, risk-adverse business audiences, we would give it a better chance than Yahoo or AOL…

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