Google Search rival DuckDuckGo: what to know about the private search engine



DuckDuckGo wants to put your digital privacy first.

DuckDuckGo; illustration by Stephen Shankland / CNET

If you’ve ever searched for a pair of shoes and advertisements for those same shoes appear on every site you’ve visited in the past month or so, you’ve seen the heinous side of online tracking. Enter DuckDuckGo: a search engine that is committed to not tracking you and keeping your search activity anonymous.

There are other private browsers, such as Courageous, which block trackers and third-party cookies that monitor your activity when you search the web. But DuckDuckGo – which recently had a heavy advertising campaign – sees itself as a direct competitor of Google search, with a mobile application and extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and other browsers.

After major incidents like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, people have become more aware of the amount of personal information available to tech companies and advertisers – and they refuse to be tracked when they can, because Apple iOS 14.5 allows you to do. Although it does not track users, DuckDuckGo’s app has been downloaded over 50 million times in the last year alone – more than any other year combined since its launch 13 years ago.

Here’s what you need to know about DuckDuckGo and how it works to secure your searches.

What is DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo is a search engine that offers a mobile browser app and a desktop extension, both designed to let you browse the internet without businesses gobbling up your personal data. It promises to keep your searches private, anonymous, and has built-in tracking blocking, so the sites you visit have a harder time collecting information about you.

Read more: Best VPNs of 2021

How does DuckDuckGo work?

For starters, DuckDuckGo doesn’t track searches done through its browser extension or mobile app. Other browsers, including Chrome, allow you to use private or private browsing windows that don’t track your search history, but their default windows do. (It is the base of everything “embarrassing search historyjoke.) Instead of navigating you to a different version of its app, DuckDuckGo never tracks your search history.

Searches done through DuckDuckGo also automatically connect you to encrypted versions of websites where possible, making it harder for anyone to see what you’re watching online. This is another scenario where both options (encrypted and unencrypted) exist on other search engines, but the default is not always the privacy-friendly option. DuckDuckGo takes the extra steps of manually navigating to encrypted connections.

DuckDuckGo is also actively blocking external trackers to follow you online. For a more detailed explanation of DuckDuckGo’s privacy features, see DuckDuckGo blog.

The DuckDuckGo search engine emphasizes privacy.

The DuckDuckGo search engine emphasizes privacy.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland / CNET

How is DuckDuckGo different from Google Search? What about Incognito mode and private browsing?

DuckDuckGo essentially takes the opposite approach compared to other big tech companies like Google and Facebook, which have traditionally made money by targeting ads based on your browsing history and your personal data. While Google has said it will stop this practice, the platform is still collecting a ton of data about you, including Your location and research activity – yes, even in private browsing mode.

Private browsing mode simply deletes from your computer the information relating to your browsing session: your history, cookies and all the information you have entered in the fields. In particular, it does this only after you have finished your session by closing all your tabs. So if you leave your private browsing tabs open for hours or days, that information will keep piling up. And anyway, Google can save your searches – and businesses, Internet service providers, and governments can still track you across the Internet, even when you’re using incognito mode.

DuckDuckGo is different because it doesn’t store your browsing data at all and blocks trackers while you browse.


When you first use DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser, the app will walk you through the different ways it protects your privacy.

Screenshot of Adam Benjamin / CNET

If it doesn’t target ads, how does DuckDuckGo make money?

DuckDuckGo always makes money from advertising – it just doesn’t use targeted ads. The search engine shows you ads based on the keywords you are looking for, which are not related to your personal data like your browsing or purchase history. Essentially, you’ll only see ads for whatever you’re looking for right now, not the weird product your friend linked you to last week that you can’t live without.

How can I use DuckDuckGo?

On mobile devices, simply open your app store and search for “DuckDuckGo”. You will be able to download the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser app and use it the same way you would use Chrome or Safari. At the bottom center of your app, you’ll see a fire icon, which you can tap at any time to close all of your tabs and clear all personal data.

On the desktop, go to, where you will see a button to add DuckDuckGo to your browser. On Chrome, you will be taken to the Chrome online store page to download the extension for free. On Safari, you will learn how to set DuckDuckGo as the default search engine or manually enable a search using DuckDuckGo.

To learn more about online privacy, see browser privacy settings you need to change right now, how to prevent your iPhone apps from following you, and the best password managers of 2021.

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