posted by Thom Holwerda on Tue 21st Jun 2011 09:33 UTC
IconRemember when Altavista was the search engine? Or Yahoo? They stuffed their search pages with useless, distracting crap, and using them became unpleasant. And then, bam, along came Google, with a simple, clear search page and uncluttered search results. However, now that Google has become this massive behemoth, tracking our every move, and tailoring our search results, leading to only being fed those pages you agree with - isn't it time for something new? Something simple? It might be, and you've undoubtedly heard of them: DuckDuckGo. I'm switching. Update: Just got an email from Gabriel Weinberg, the guy behind DuckDuckGo. The OSNews !bang (!osnews) is now live!

DuckDuckGo is a relatively new search engine that has really been gaining in popularity recently. On OSNews alone several people regularly advise others to try it out whenever we talk about online privacy. So, what are some of the reasons you might want to try out DuckDuckGo?

First of all, DuckDuckGo doesn't track you, so you get real privacy when you search the web. Google tracks pretty much everything you do so they can better target you with advertisements. I have no problems with targeted advertising, and I have no issues in and of itself with Google collecting such information (in the end, I decide what I feed the web).

What does bother me, though, is the fact that I wouldn't be able to protect myself if the US government ever subpoena'd Google to gain access to that information. Of course, I am of no interest to them (even my porn habits are incredibly boring), but it's the principle of the thing. Mind you that this is not mindless US-bashing; the same concerns apply to my own government and the EU. However, at least here in The Netherlands or even the EU I would have some means to defend myself against such government behaviour - I don't in the US.

That's why I love the idea of a search engine that doesn't track me. God knows, I might develop some embarrassing illness in the future, and I would rather keep something like that under wraps. DuckDuckGo is the answer here - no tracking, no information sharing. DuckDuckGo doesn't send your search terms to the web sites you visit. It also has various other privacy features, such as the ability to use POST requests, HTTPS with the ability to automatically force sites in the search results to also use HTTPS, and integrated Tor functionality, so you can get completely end-to-end anonymous and encrypted search.

More importantly though (at least for me) - DuckDuckGo tries to pop something called the filter bubble. "A filter bubble is a concept developed by internet activist Eli Pariser to describe a phenomenon in which search queries on sites such as Google or Facebook or Yahoo selectively guess what information a user would like to see based on the user's past search history and, as a result, searches tend to play back information which agrees with the user's past viewpoint," Wikipedia summarises, "Accordingly, users get less exposure to conflicting viewpoints." In the below TED talk, Pariser explains it in more detail.

So, is this all, or are there any other reasons to try DuckDuckGo? Well, I really like the !bang syntax, which allows for all kinds of CLI-like commands to be parsed to DuckDuckGo. Of course, things like !youtube query work, but also something like !safeoff query to perform a single search without safe search on. The list of !bangs is pretty extensive already, and yes, I've sent them a request to have !osnews turned into a !bang, too.

Other interesting goodies are listed on the, uh, goodies page. Of course, there are several browser extensions and smartphone applications for DuckDuckGo as well.

DuckDuckGo isn't perfect, obviously. It doesn't do image search, for instance (although you can use the !gi !bang for that), and more annoyingly, it's kind of a hassle to switch 'locales'. With Google, when I need to perform a Dutch search, I simply go to Google.nl and search from there; for international searches, I go to Google.com. With DuckDuckGo, I'd have to change locales in the settings page - as a translator, that's incredibly annoying. I might shoot them an email and ask if locale-switching could be done using !bangs (e.g. !nl query).

I'm starting the process of switching over to DuckDuckGo; it's now my default search engine in Chrome. It'll take a little getting used to, but then, I once switched from Altavista to Google without much hassle, so this should work too. Competition is good, and boy, does Google need it.

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