Online privacy generally isn’t


It’s an old, trite, but all-too-often true statement that “Something free is worth what you paid for it”.  It’s as true in the technology sphere as in any other, as users valuing their online privacy are reminded every time there’s a new scandal about their personal information and online activities being monitored, sold and/or leaked.

Search engine DuckDuckGo is the latest to be caught.

The privacy-focused company offers a search engine that claims not to track people’s searches, or behavior, and also doesn’t build user profiles that can be used to display personalized advertising.

Search engine aside, DuckDuckGo also offers a mobile browser(opens in new tab) of the same name, but this has raised concerns, as although this promises to block hidden third-party trackers, some from a certain tech giant are allowed to continue operating.

Namely, while Google’s and Facebook’s trackers are being blocked, those of Microsoft are allowed to continue running. Zach Edwards, the security researcher who first discovered the issue, later also found that trackers related to the and domains were also being allowed through the blocks. 

The news quickly drew in crowds of dissatisfied users, with DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg, soon chiming in to confirm the authenticity of the findings … What remains unknown is why the company who is known for its transparency decided to keep this agreement a secret for as long as it could.

In a statement … Weinberg said that DuckDuckGo offers “above-and-beyond protection” other browsers don’t even think of doing, but that the company “never promised” full anonymity(opens in new tab) when browsing.

There’s more at the link.

“Never promised”, eh?  I wonder what Mr. Weinberg meant by asking users whether they’re “tired of being tracked online”, then promising that DuckDuckGo “can help”.  The company also offers “privacy protection for any device”.  Sounds a lot like promises to me . . . yet now we find that those affirmations weren’t promises, or guarantees, or binding.  How would we feel if our partners and spouses treated us like that?  Would we ever trust them again?  I think not – so why should we trust DuckDuckGo?  As for it being “known for its transparency” . . . apparently not so much.

This demonstrates yet again that, if you can’t figure out what product a company is selling, you’re the product.  We aren’t paying DuckDuckGo for its services, yet the company is making money out of us by getting paid for information about our online activities.  Our privacy, which we value, and which the company uses as a ploy to entice us to use its services, is in fact negated rather than enhanced if we use its search engine and/or browser.  In so many words, the company has lied to us by omission, rather than deliberate commission.

I don’t know of any company that can be trusted absolutely when it comes to our online privacy.  The best I’ve been able to find so far, and assess through user comments, is the Brave browser’s search engine.  I don’t have the knowledge or resources to test its claims about privacy, but nobody’s debunked those claims yet (at least publicly).  I also note that a great many intrusive Web sites, packed with trackers and analytic software, don’t work as well using Brave as they do using other browsers.  I’m guessing that’s because they’re trying to force Brave to provide the information they want, and the browser isn’t doing so.  I use that as a good litmus test for whether a site is worth visiting.  If it doesn’t play well with Brave, it raises a caution flag as far as I’m concerned.  (Brave helpfully tells you how many trackers and other intrusive software a given site is trying to load.  Some of the totals are startlingly high.  For example, as I write these words while checking in another browser window, the Wall Street Journal currently tries to load 36;  Fox News, 35;  Accuweather, 30;  and CNN, 21.  Why do they need all that information about you?  They don’t – they want to make money by selling it to other companies.)

Dad always told me, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”.  I suggest every “free” product, and every promise of privacy made by Big Tech, should be viewed in that light.  And, yes, we have to accept that we’re going to be tracked online no matter how many precautions we take.  However, I’m still going to make that as difficult as possible, as a matter of basic principle.  Why make it easy for the intrusive b******s?



  1. Unfortunately, I'm not surprised after they changed their search results a few months ago to downrank Russian results.
    I've used Startpage for several years now. Their advantage is being based in Europe, where they are under a stricter set of rules and not (directly at least) under the US government or the influence of major tech companies.

  2. You might want to read the response from Duck Duck Go's CEO.

    Yes, they could have been more transparent.
    Yes, this is the browser, not the search engine.
    Yes, they are putting their thumb on the scales with search results.
    Personally, I haven't found a better answer on iOS.

    From the response:

    What this article is talking about specifically is another above-and-beyond protection that most browsers don't even attempt to do for web protection— stopping third-party tracking scripts from even loading on third-party websites — because this can easily cause websites to break. But we've taken on that challenge because it makes for better privacy, and faster downloads — we wrote a blog post about it here. Because we're doing this above-and-beyond protection where we can, and offer many other unique protections (e.g., Google AMP/FLEDGE/Topics protection, automatic HTTPS upgrading, tracking protection for *other* apps in Android, email protection to block trackers for emails sent to your regular inbox, etc.), users get way more privacy protection with our app than they would using other browsers. Our goal has always been to provide the most privacy we can in one download.

    The issue at hand is, while most of our protections like 3rd-party cookie blocking apply to Microsoft scripts on 3rd-party sites (again, this is off of, i.e., not related to search), we are currently contractually restricted by Microsoft from completely stopping them from loading (the one above-and-beyond protection explained in the last paragraph) on 3rd party sites. We still restrict them though (e.g., no 3rd party cookies allowed). The original example was loading a script. Nevertheless, we have been and are working with Microsoft as we speak to reduce or remove this limited restriction.

  3. NOTE: When you change browsers from DDG, all of your bookmarks and homepage shortcuts will be deleted and lost, unless you save / export them first.
    I did, and have gone to Brave, though the search results are far more limited, and less relevant.
    John in Indy

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *