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James Perrin

How Vital is Private Search? ‘Very’ Say DuckDuckGo

18th Feb 2011 News, Industry News 3 minutes to read

The debate between personalised and private searches has been gathering pace recently. DuckDuckGo are standing firm with their stance on privacy, whilst Bing recently announced they will be venturing into personalised search. Who’s right?

Private Search

Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of DuckDuckGo, has made a case for his search engine as an antidote to the other search engines (namely Google). One of the big USPs of DDG is its position on personalised searches; it doesn’t do them. When DDG came onto the scene, they had a catchy marketing campaign describing the perils of personalised search ‘Google tracks you. We don’t’, and heavily promoting private search as the way forward. But what’s it all about?

Well DDG’s privacy policy revolves around the elimination of two key search areas: search leakage (where search terms are sent to the site you have clicked on) and search history (all searches are stored by the search engine). Speaking to Web Pro News, Weinberg states, “We literally don’t save the information about your computer that you send to us, which is…your IP address and your user agent. So there’s no way to tie your searches to you, or even to tie your searches together.”

DDG claim their searches are just as relevant to the user without having to gather this personal information. By not collecting or sharing user information they believe they are creating a safer search experience, as other search engines sell this information to ad networks to target adverts to you when searching.

Personalised Search

Opposing this ideology completely are the big two search engines, Google and Bing. The latter of which have just announced they are going to use Location & Previous Search History to Personalise Results.

Surely having a search engine that has stored data regarding your searches is going to achieve a far greater user experience than search engines that don’t? ‘Search leakage’ as DDG call it, is a great way of saving search information so if you ever wanted to perform a similar search, the SE will know exactly what you’re after.

Personalisation also affects search results related to location. If you wanted to look for local taxi numbers, Google and soon Bing will have the upper hand as your IP address locates your town or city and will be able to provide you with numbers relating to your query, where as DDG won’t.

On the other hand, all that user information is stored and could face the possible threat of being stolen, legally or illegally requested, or worse still these search engines  could get hacked.

Who’s right?

Private search has proved to be a concern amongst users, with Google having their own private search engine.  This ‘popularity’ can be seen with search engines such as Blekko and the aforementioned DDG. These are gathering a reputation, albeit as niche search engines. But the future of these search engines is questionable [See: Is The Future Bright or Bleak for Blekko?]

DDG acknowledge personal search is designed to improve the user experience, but that it’s also to target advertising to users across the web. Isn’t this fundamentally restricting DDG in the long run though, particularly away from the US? DDG’s ideological position of maintaining privacy could affect it’s commercially viability as user generated information is what advertisers want and will pay big bucks for.

It appears to boil down to what the user’s feelings are on the issue of private vs personalised searches. As long as they don’t mind their search terms and IP address being shared (or aren’t aware), and then websites like Google and Bing will always remain victorious. What do you think? Do personalised searches compromise privacy? The preference of each type of search is really down to you the user and as it stands it seems the vast majority of users either don’t know or don’t care if their information is shared. Either that, or they’re simply happier with the devil they know.

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