DuckDuckGo at 10: Looking ahead with CEO Gabriel Weinberg

Jamie

Jamie is always hungry. He also writes about digital privacy in exchange for sandwiches.

DuckDuckGo logo

Meeting the growing demand of the privacy-conscious public for 10 years now is DuckDuckGo—a privacy-oriented search engine that doesn’t collect or share any of your information from your searches, period.

Naturally, we at ExpressVPN are massive fans of DuckDuckGo, so we were absolutely thrilled at the chance to pick the brains of its founder, Gabriel Weinberg, on their milestones, challenges facing online privacy, and the possibility of expanding beyond its search engine.

Thanks for speaking with us Mr. Weinberg! Earlier this year, DuckDuckGo hit a milestone 10 billion private searches, after a steepening use curve in recent years. To what would you attribute this increase?

2017 has actually been a year of milestones for us: we’ve now reached 15 billion private searches, and on Nov 27 hit a record 21 million searches in one day!

Our privacy research is showing that privacy is now mainstream, with 24% of the population now caring deeply enough about their online privacy to take significant actions to try to protect it. With increasingly invasive advertising, devastating data breaches, and the ramping up of regulatory focus, we expect this group to continue to grow.

Nearly one-quarter of people is by no means a small number and this group is certainly not “niche.” They also cut across all demographics—interest in protecting privacy online is a universal interest across the age and political spectrum.

It’s great that so many people care. The Financial Times recently called DuckDuckGo the “ethical search engine.” Do you see similar ethical/clean products and services online becoming more popular alternatives in the near future?

Yes, as particular technologies become standardized and pervasive like search, email, or messaging, then companies like ours can give people alternative options based on shared ethical values—in our case, privacy. We see an increasing array of similar alternatives. As online privacy has become increasingly attacked, these alternatives are increasingly attractive.

DuckDuckGo has been around for a decade now. What do you see as the next steps for the company over the next five years? Are there plans to add more features to DuckDuckGo? Or even expanding DuckDuckGo to other online services?

Despite how simple DuckDuckGo looks, building and running a search engine is complicated and ever-changing. We need to continue working hard to provide great search results to prove you don’t have to give up convenience for peace of mind.

Looking to the future, though, we want to do more to protect people once they click away from our search results. We’ve been working towards that future this year and will have something to announce soon. Watch our blog for details.

What’s the biggest challenge you see facing ordinary users and their online privacy in the U.S.?

Without a doubt, it’s the vast corporate tracking apparatus that has emerged to track you across the web wherever you go. Google trackers are now embedded on about 75% of the top million websites, and Facebook trackers on about 25%.

When you visit a random news or information site, literally dozens of third-party trackers can be hidden behind the scenes scooping up your every move. Google and Facebook use this data to better target ads at you, often ones that follow you wherever you go, or are a bit too creepily on target—sometimes achieved by even combining offline data like credit card purchases. Following the EU, the U.S. is starting to get more regulatory focus on these issues, which is welcome.

Finally, what’s a good online privacy best practice that we can all start right away?

We’ve put together top privacy tips for major devices at https://spreadprivacy.com/tag/device-privacy-tips/. Please start there!

Many thanks for speaking to us!

Jamie writes about current issues concerning digital privacy and security and is known to interview leading figures in tech. He also keeps an eye on changes in government censorship and surveillance.