Is DuckDuckGo Safe and Secure?

How safe is DuckDuckGo? Very much so, actually! In fact, DuckDuckGo is probably safer and more secure than some of the more common search engines that people use, such as Google Search, Yahoo Search, and Bing.  Read on to find out why.

How DuckDuckGo keeps you safe

Blocking “search leakage”

“Search leakage” is a phenomenon where, when you click on a result from a search engine to go to a website, it sends your Internet address, browser information, and search terms to that website.  Therefore, not only does every website that you click on know that you specifically visited them, but they also know what you searched for to find them (and so does the search engine).

DuckDuckGo fixes this privacy problem in two basic ways.  First of all, the website itself does not collect any personally-identifiable information about you.  Second, when you click on the result of a DuckDuckGo search, DuckDuckGo redirects your action in a way that prevents your search terms from getting sent.  Therefore, websites will still know that you visited them, but they won’t know how you found them.

Avoiding search history pitfalls

When you use other search engines, they often collect information about how you use them.  This could include your search terms, the date and time of your searches, your Internet address, your browser specifications, or even your account information (if you have an account on the service and are logged in).  This can let them track and profile you, which may also lead them to “personalize” your search results to show you results based on things that you are supposedly interested in.  However, these results might not be the most relevant to you in the context of a particular search.

While this may be somewhat unsettling, the larger problem is what happens if the personal information a search engine collects from you is shared with others.  The search engine could deliberately release anonymized versions of it (many of which aren’t actually all that anonymous) for research purposes, have it leaked or stolen by hackers, or give it to law enforcement organizations upon request.

DuckDuckGo avoids these potentially thorny privacy issues of properly securing and anonymizing data while complying with law enforcement requests by simply not collecting your personal/usage data at all.  They’re not legally required to collect your information, and if they don’t have it, then they can’t leak it, lose it, or give it to law enforcement agencies.

Does DuckDuckGo collect any information from me?

Yes, but none of it contains anything that would allow DuckDuckGo to identify and track you as a unique user (such as your Internet address or web browser specifications).  Here’s a list of some of the information that DuckDuckGo keeps:

  • Small Internet files known as “cookies” (see our What are Cookies article for more information) that keep track of any settings that you change on DuckDuckGo.

  • Cookies that keep track of “bangs” that you have used to search on other websites through DuckDuckGo (see our How to Search DuckDuckGo tutorial for more on “bangs” and how they work).

  • Search terms, for the sole purpose of offering spelling suggestions on commonly-misspelled words.

  • Affiliate codes that result in DuckDuckGo being paid a commission when products are sold due to someone searching for them on e-commerce websites (such as Amazon and eBay) through DuckDuckGo, or clicking an advertisement for them on DuckDuckGo.  See our How Does DuckDuckGo Make Money tutorial for more information.

  • Any personal information that you willingly share with DuckDuckGo when providing them with feedback (which is totally optional; you can provide anonymous feedback if you’d like).

That’s a brief explanation of the ways in which DuckDuckGo does and doesn’t keep you safe!

DuckDuckGo vs Google Search

In our introduction to DuckDuckGo, we went over that it was created to be a privacy-friendly alternative to Google Search and the other two of the "big three" search engines.  But how well does the world's most popular private search engine stack up against the world's most popular search engine overall?  Here's a breakdown of what each search engine does that the other one doesn't… at least, not very well.

Advantages of DuckDuckGo over Google Search

Privacy controls

This is the big advantage that DuckDuckGo has over Google Search, and pretty much its main reason for existing.  DuckDuckGo has options that allow you to use a secure version of the website, making your search activity difficult to track and decipher.  You can also redirect your search requests through DuckDuckGo in a way that prevents the websites that you search for from tracking how you found them, or tracking that you've even searched for them at all.  On top of that, DuckDuckGo also refrains from recording your Internet address, browser specifications, date/time and location of your search, or anything tying your search or its terms directly to you.  Google Search doesn't do any of these things.

Accessibility customization options

There are all sorts of other ways to make DuckDuckGo look and act the way you want it to.  Google Search has a few of them, such as changing the language that it displays in, changing the results page layout, and determining whether or not quick answers are displayed for you.  However, DuckDuckGo has other accessibility options, such as changing the background colour or the style, size, and colour of the text if you're having trouble reading your results.

Ability to search directly within websites with "bangs"

Leaving aside Google Search, this is a feature of DuckDuckGo that not many other search engines in general — if any of them — have.  By typing in a "bang" before your search terms, DuckDuckGo will take you directly to the website that the "bang" is for, and conduct your search from there.  This preserves your privacy while saving you the trouble of searching through irrelevant results when you want to look for something on a particular website only.  You can search directly on over 6000 websites this way!

Unique search type options

Google Search covers several basic types of searches: web pages, images, videos, news, shopping items, and so on.  DuckDuckGo has some of these and not others, but it also has a bunch of other search categories that Google doesn't.  For example, you can search for profiles on social media websites, software applications, alternatives to certain services (including DuckDuckGo itself!), and even words that rhyme with your search terms.

Handy hidden functions

DuckDuckGo also has a bunch of other neat functions that you can get by typing in specific questions or commands.  Examples include:

  • Displaying a calendar with the current (or specified) date

  • Changing the case of some or all letters in your search terms

  • Counting the number of characters (i.e. letters, numbers, symbols, spaces) in your search terms

  • Letting you use a virtual stopwatch

  • Checking whether a website is currently online or not

  • Calculating how much you have to pay for a loan

Google Search has some hidden functions that are similar, but not as many as DuckDuckGo.

Advantages of Google Search over DuckDuckGo

More overall results

DuckDuckGo is a relatively small company, and as such, most of its results and information are supplied by its tech team and groups of volunteer enthusiasts.  Google, on the other hand, is a multi-billion dollar corporation with large tech teams and countless indexing programs constantly scouring the World Wide Web for anything new that shows up.  As a result, you will receive many more results when searching on Google Search, which usually means that you have a better chance of finding what you're looking for, especially if you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Better filtering options

One thing that DuckDuckGo surprisingly lacks when compared to Google Search is the ability to narrow down search results beyond just the general type of result that you're looking for.  With Google Search, you can filter your results based on parameters such as when a piece of content was uploaded, how big a picture is, how long a video is, whether something matches your search terms word for word, and so on.  DuckDuckGo doesn't have any of these options (or at least, they aren't immediately accessible like they are on Google Search), which is one of its major weaknesses.

Broader search type options

Just as DuckDuckGo has some unique options for things to search for, Google Search has some broad search categories that DuckDuckGo doesn't have.  These include books, news, locations on a map, financial information, online journals (blogs), and scholarly writings.

The bottom line

The takeaway here is that both DuckDuckGo and Google Search have their own strong points, which should each be taken into consideration when deciding which search engine to use.  Google Search gives you more overall search results while giving you more (readily-accessible) tools to narrow down what you're looking for.  It's also relatively simple to use, but lacks customization options.  And it isn't very privacy-friendly.

On the other hand, DuckDuckGo has much better privacy and customization options, so you can really control how it works for you.  It may not give you as many search results (or ways to sort through them) as Google Search, but it can give you certain kinds of information on what you're looking for that Google Search can't.  It also has a host of other handy gadgets, including the "bangs" convention that lets you quickly and easily search on one particular website at a time.  It will depend on how much you're willing to tinker with the settings and explore how the extra functions work, but DuckDuckGo may end up being a more versatile and privacy-friendly version of Google Search for you.

What is DuckDuckGo?

If you’ve ever wanted to find something on the Internet before, be it a website, picture, video, or something else, chances are that you’ve used a search engine website.  You’ve probably used one of the “big three” search engines, those being Google Search , Yahoo Search, or Microsoft’s Bing.

A potential problem with these websites, though, is that they record information about you and how you use them.  In some cases, this information is used to sell advertisements, so you’ll see pitches on other websites related to things that you’ve searched for.  In other cases, the information is used to “personalize” your results.  This means that when you conduct searches in the future, you’ll see more search results that have to do with things that you’ve searched for before, but not necessarily ones that are the most relevant to what you are searching for at the time.

So what makes DuckDuckGo different as a search engine?

Gabriel Weinberg and the people behind DuckDuckGo didn’t like the fact that other search engines were tracking the information of people who used them.  They believed that using this information to sell targeted advertisements was privacy-invasive, and that using it to skew what results users would get when they searched was tantamount to censorship.  So, they decided to do something about it by making their own search engine, one that would be different.  Today, DuckDuckGo is one of the most popular private search engines on the planet.

DuckDuckGo is known as a “private” search engine because it doesn’t record any personal Internet-related information about you, unless you explicitly give it to them.  This means that it doesn’t care about your computer’s Internet address, your web browser specifications, or even what you searched for, where, and when.  With nothing personal to go off of when you search, DuckDuckGo will give you the same results for the same search terms every single time, no matter who you are.  DuckDuckGo also has features that block the websites that you find from knowing how you found them, so they can’t use this information to profile you and show you privacy-invasive targeted advertising.

Why use DuckDuckGo?

  • All of the basic search engine features you know and love — Search for web pages, images, videos, products, general information, and more on DuckDuckGo.  Many results are constructed by DuckDuckGo’s crack tech staff and volunteer groups, and presented first for easy access.

    Different things that you can search for on DuckDuckGo

  • Choose how to take back your search privacy — Use DuckDuckGo’s settings to secure your web search.  You can use a secure version of the website that makes your activities difficult to track and interpret.  You can also redirect your search request so that other websites can’t see your search terms, or even modify your search request so that your search terms aren’t visible to any websites at all, even DuckDuckGo!

    DuckDuckGo privacy options

  • Zero in on specific websites with “bangs” — DuckDuckGo has a unique feature called “bangs”, which allow you to search within over 6000 individual websites while still using the privacy and security features of DuckDuckGo.  Just type in a “bang” followed by your search terms, and you’ll instantly be taken to a search results page for your website of choice!

    Searching on DuckDuckGo using bangs

  • Lots of ways to make DuckDuckGo look good — There are plenty of options for changing how DuckDuckGo appears, from selecting the language and other conventions that it uses to changing the style, size, and/or colour of the text and backgrounds.  Or, just pick a preset theme that you like!

    Choose a DuckDuckGo theme

Now that you’ve gotten your feet wet with a bit of information on what DuckDuckGo is about, we’ll go over the pros and cons of it, including how it stacks up against the world’s leading search engine, Google Search.