“Did you Google it?” That’s a question that pretty much everyone would be able to understand and answer. To most people, that question means, “Did you search for the answer to your question online using Google search?”
Google offers a great search engine, and maybe even something akin to a general knowledge engine that can answer questions like, “how tall is Obama”, or “what time is the ballgame tonight?”
Trading your privacy for search answers
But the trade-off for users of Google is that Google takes all that data you feed into it and creates a profile of you that it then uses to push ads at you. It’s not just the Google search engine that feeds that data-eating monster either. Your email (if you use Gmail), your web browsing history (if you use Chrome) and a whole host of other things contribute to the creation of that profile.
Google knows where you are if you use an Android phone, or navigate with Waze or Google Maps. They know what music you like and what movies you watch. They know if you are sick because you search for information on symptoms. They know if you are in a relationship or have a family because they see different users from the same IP using different accounts.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Suffice to say, they know a ton about you. And maybe you are fine with that…or maybe not.
I’m not fine with that, and I try to avoid using Google services whenever possible to prevent Google from assembling that profile of me.
There are a bunch of different services you can use that aren’t Google. Apple’s iCloud email is great and ad-free and Apple doesn’t scan your email to know how to advertise to you. Or you can get your own ad-free, private email at your own domain name through services like Hover.com (where I work).
But search is a tough one. Google search is fantastic and over the years, there haven’t been many search providers than can match Google’s search.
DuckDuckGo is now at a point where it’s right there with Google for 99% of the searches I do, including images and even news. When DuckDuckGo comes up short, it’s easy to re-do the search using Google Search, right from DuckDuckGo.
Additionally, most of the major browsers will now allow you to choose DuckDuckGo as the default search, including using it for the instant search dropdowns from the URL bar. Safari even automatically switches to DuckDuckGo when you enter private browsing mode.
DuckDuckGo has a few advanced features that Google doesn’t have, including what DuckDuckGo calls “bangs”. These are special searches that you can start by using a “!” and a keyword.
For example, you can search on Google from DuckDuckGo by starting your search with !g and then the search terms and it’ll open up Google and do your search there.
A full list of “bangs” is here. I often use !g for a fallback to Google Search, !maps for location searches and even !hover to do a domain search at Hover.com.
DuckDuckGo also provides “instant answers” for common searches like “15 inches in cm” or “24.99USD in CAD“. These give you the answer right up front without requiring you to click through to a website. In my experience, DuckDuckGo does a great job with these “instant answers”, often providing them in situations where I wouldn’t expect them to exist (like PayPal error codes).
We don’t track you
Or course, the most important part of DuckDuckGo is that they don’t track you. In other words, your searches aren’t tracked, and stored to build up a profile of you. Their policy in a nutshell is simple and succinct: “DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information.”
You can read the full text here and get a better understanding of why not tracking you is important and why you should care.
Once you’ve done that, switch over to DuckDuckGo as your default search engine for a week or two. I bet that you won’t notice much of a difference compared to Google.