One on one with Gabriel Weinberg, CEO at DuckDuckGo

The privacy-protecting search engine is having a surge in traffic

DuckDuckGo is a search engine with a twist. It pledges not to track your information, while providing some interesting search features. We interviewed DuckDuckGo CEO and founder Gabriel Weinberg, and we asked him about the search engine's privacy policies and its growing popularity.

FCM: How is DuckDuckGo different from Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Bing and Yahoo in terms of operations and privacy?

GW: DuckDuckGo is a general search engine like the big guys except we do not track you. In other words, when you search on DuckDuckGo you are truly anonymous. Our privacy policy is readable and explains how this works and why you should care: 

In addition to privacy, we focus on an overall better search experience with less clutter, less spam, less intrusive advertising and of course, better results. We believe that for most searches there is a site out there that already has a great answer for you, such as IMDB for movies or Yelp for restaurants. We try to get that information from that best source and put it above the links so you can get instant answers.

DuckDuckGo gets its results from over one hundred sources, including DuckDuckBot (our own crawler), crowd-sourced sites (like Wikipedia, which are stored in our own index), Yahoo (through BOSS), WolframAlpha, Bing and Yandex.

FCM: How do you ensure users you really aren't collecting any information and aren't cooperating with government requests for data?

GW: There is a good discussion of this question here.

In short, two reasons. First, we are legally bound by our privacy policy and could go to jail if it was found to be willfully violated. Second, our entire reputation is stacked on our privacy policy and willfully violating it would ruin us.

We literally do not store personally identifiable user data such as IP addresses, so if the NSA were to get a hold of all our data, it would not be useful to them since it is all truly anonymous.

FCM: In light of the recent revelations about NSA surveillance, are you seeing more users on your service? If so, how do you keep them there?

GW: We are breaking all traffic records, and are up about 55 percent before this story broke. We are now at ~2.5 million direct searches/day.

People are being drawn to us because of our strong privacy policy. They are staying because they're getting a better search experience including less spam, clutter and ads, and better instant answers.

FCM: Some of the advanced features, like doing a search by a partner service like YouTube or Twitter, are really great, but will you update the interface in the future to surface some of those features instead of relying on user know-how?

GW: You are referring to our !Bang syntax. Once people understand how it works, they really love it!

We are working on ways to make this and other features more discoverable. Recently, we have added the "Try this search on" option on the right rail of the search engine results page with links to several sites.  We also are working on autocomplete for !bangs, which is already available in our Android app.

FCM: Given you aren't collecting information about users, and the primary way to make money with a free search engine is targeted advertising, how do you think you can make money as a company moving forward?

GW: It is a myth that Google needs to track you to make money on web search.

When you type in a search, we can show an ad based on that search term, just like Google does. That doesn't involve tracking because it is based on the keyword and not the person. We currently show just one ad though as opposed to the many (sometimes 10-15) you'll find on Google.

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