“We don't bubble you, or track you” assures the promotional slogan of the three-year-old, steadily growing Internet search engine, oddly called DuckDuckGo.

The name, however, belies an agenda and a philosophy that is diametrically opposite to that of the Internet mammoths that populate the search engine space. For, DuckDuckGo does not want to track its users, save users results, or harvest cookies information from browsers of its users unlike its counterparts. DuckDuckGo functions with the prime motive of “respecting the privacy of users”.

User information

That general purpose search engines spy on their users and collect information to serve targeted advertisements is by now well-known. There have been instances in which information collected by search engines about users has either been traded with other companies for marketing purposes, or handed over to legal authorities when asked for it. While complying with the requests of legal authorities might seem acceptable, it is the process of such information-gathering in the first place that makes the actions of search engines questionable.

“Filter bubbles” form the next level of manipulation while searching the Internet. These are techniques by search engines to influence the kind of information a user may retrieve for a specific search query. Customised search results for each user, although projected as an advantageous feature, has serious limitations.

As Hemanth H.M., a GNU/Linux developer and activist, points out, there is a deeper and more fundamental problem with customisation. He points out that users often see only search results that the engines want them to see. It should be our critical faculty that has to decide on the nature of information we want to access, not a search engine doing it on our behalf, and, hence, overriding the freedom of users, he emphasises.

Here's where the escape hatch offered by DuckDuckGo begins to make complete sense.

A project started by MIT postgraduate Gabriel Weinberg, DuckDuckGo today is widely used and propagated by users who are conscious of online privacy and Internet security.

It makes extra effort not to save the IP address of users, or the user-agent information consisting of the Web browser and operating system details, which would otherwise get logged onto their servers by default. Further, browser cookies that are used to remember user preferences for specific websites, also containing adequate information for websites to track users and their interests, are disabled by default. “DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information. That is our privacy policy in a nutshell,” says Mr. Weinberg in the search engine's Privacy Policy.

As DuckDuckGo is yet to come out of incubation, their search results may not be as exhaustive as that of the other veterans in the domain. DuckDuckGo counters this rectifiable deficit by providing an option called “bang syntax”. When search results are inadequate, users can get DuckDuckGo to redirect their search query to other search engines, or specific websites by using “!options”. For instance, a search query appended with “!wiki”, directly yields results from Wikipedia.