By:Stephen Chartrand- Specialty News Editor
Gabriel Weinberg launched the search engine DuckDuckGo in 2008 in Philadelphia. His critics were calling him mad that he was starting a search engine to compete with Google. However, Weinberg believed his search engine had an edge over Google: user privacy. The chart below showing daily search queries from 2010-2014 indicates Weinberg may be proving the critics wrong.
Since July of last year, around the time Edward Snowden leaked the NSAs surveillance program, DuckDuckGo has seen a massive increase in user queries. According to Weinberg, the search has grown “every year … [by] 200-500% … and the numbers keep getting bigger,” he said. In early Feb. search queries had surpassed more than 4 million per day; last year it was less than a million. Why is this at all interesting? The search engine market is one of the most monopolized markets in technology; that a startup so recent is breaking into the market and looking to compete with Google is worth looking into.
Weinberg created DuckDuckGo after going through a string of projects and one previously failed startup he sold to Classmates.com for $10 million to 2006. Of all the indepedent projects Weinberg started, “none of them really took off,” he recalls. And when he realized that maybe if he “put them all together, there might be an interesting search experience there.” He knew that in the early dot.com years of fledging internet companies, many of the companies offering the same mass-indexing technology failed to rival or compete with Google. Instead, the DuckDuckGo search engine offers what it calls “Instant Answers.”
“When you do a search, you generally want an answer. You don’t necessarily want to click around links,” he said. “It’s our job to try to get an answer. Our grand vision is that [it] happens for 80% of queries, even for very niche things.”
However, this is not DuckDuckGo’s primary competitive advantage in the search engine market. While companies like Google and other large and well-funded tech giants could easily mimic Weinberg’s niche and snuff the small company out of existence, Weinberg and his small staff of 20 employees, are selling the search engine on the company’s ability to protect users privacy. The search engine won’t log your IP address, search cookies do not track your activity, and will not save your search history; nor does search engine log what terms you’re using when making a search query. In the early stages of its development, Weinberg recalls, “Some of the first questions I got were about privacy.”
“If you look at the logs of people’s search sessions, they’re the most personal thing on the Internet,” Weinberg said. “Unlike Facebook, where you choose what to post, with search you’re typing in medical and financial problems and all sorts of other things. You’re not thinking about the privacy implications of your search history.”
Although it is highly unlikely that DuckDuckGo will offer Google any serious competition to make the company worry, it has by all accounts, secured a comfortable position in the market next to the tech giant. People are much more aware of their online privacy today than they were a few years ago, especially as political scandals continue to hammer the point home that the internet is not as ‘unmonitored’ and ‘safe’ as they thought it was.