If you search for something on the Internet, you do it through Google. But aren’t there perhaps privacy-friendly alternatives? Yes! DuckDuckGo.
If you’re looking for something on the Internet, you do it – of course – through Google. But aren’t there perhaps alternatives that don’t create a complete profile of my life and still deliver useful results? I think so: DuckDuckGo.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing them everywhere: billboards advertising DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo is a search engine, and now you might directly ask yourself why you still have to write articles about search engines in 2021? Google has monopolized the market, and you can get anything you want there. And at this point, you can’t fool yourself either: Google has the best results. And it’s no wonder, after all, they are a multi-billion dollar company that pulls together data from all sorts of sources and creates personal profiles. So for an alternative, it can’t be about delivering better results. Instead, it must stand out in other ways. Moreover, the results must not be too bad, of course. I can accept a little worse results if the added value is greater overall. Too bad results won’t do, of course. So what is the state of DuckDuckGo? And why should I use DuckDuckGo instead of Google at all?
One business model, two approaches
The answer is simple: privacy. Google is not a search engine. Google is a data vendor. The business model is straightforward. We as users are not the customers, companies are. Google collects data from users through its unbeatable free offer, sells it to companies that want to advertise and makes money that way.
DuckDuckGo stands out here. Yes, DuckDuckGo also places advertisements and earns a large part of its money this way. However, the advertising is not based on the user’s profile, as is the case with Google, but simply on what is searched for. If I search for “vacation at the Baltic Sea” I will get ads for hotels at the Baltic Sea. However, no profile of mine is created, with which it would be possible to trace what I searched for five minutes ago, yesterday or two weeks ago and what else I am interested in. Google, on the other hand, knows where I go (Google Maps), who I write emails to (GMail) and what I watch in my free time (YouTube).
The crucial question concerning search results
Of course, it is difficult to quantify the quality of search results. One would have to conduct a long series of tests with different searches and user profiles to arrive at a reasonably comparable conclusion. So all that remains is good old anecdotal evidence. And here I can say that my usage experience has clearly improved over the years. When I tried to use DuckDuckGo a few years ago, it was simply not possible. I simply didn’t find anything.
In the meantime, things look quite different. I use DuckDuckGo on all my devices and I no longer have the impression that it hinders me in my work. On the contrary. More often than not, I am very satisfied with the results. I can’t express that in percentages, but as a rule I am satisfied.
Important here are the regional settings, which are located under the search box. If I search for something in German, I activate the switch and set the regional context to Germany. This also works with a variety of other countries and improves the results dramatically. It is the same when I search for things in English or simply an international context. In this case, I switch off the region-specific context and get significantly different results than if I were still searching in the German context. So if you are not satisfied with the results, you should first set your own country context.
Right next to it, there are also settings for the family filter and the time period to which the search should refer: Sometime, Yesterday, Last Week, Last Month or Last Year. If you are looking for news or other time-sensitive information, this is of course very practical.
Country context, family filter and time limit can significantly change the search results.
And of course, DuckDuckGo also has various special searches, as known from Google for either everything, pictures, videos, news or maps. This helps not only with the specific search, but also to protect your privacy. You can watch Youtube videos directly in DuckDuckGo without Youtube and therefore Google noticing who is watching.
!Bangs for a meta search engine
And then there’s the trick with Bangs and that’s where DuckDuckGo really stands out. Bangs are short commands that convert DuckDuckGo to a meta search engine. They always work according to the scheme !shortcut and then search on the respective service without sharing your own data. DuckDuckGo acts as an intermediary. For example, I can search with !g on Google, with !a on Amazon or with !yt on YouTube. DuckDuckGo then leads me directly to the respective page and presents me the results. These are also just three examples, there are many more. In total, it is currently the almost ridiculously large number of 13,505 bangs, all to look up on a separate page of DuckDuckGo.
It’s also nice that I can use DuckDuckGo anywhere. On desktop computers or laptops this has never been much of a problem: just open the browser settings to set the search engine of your choice. On a smartphone, it’s a bit more complicated, but fortunately it works. For Android, it is described here, for iPhones and iPads I go to the Settings app and open the Safari settings. There I find the entry Search Engines and I can choose between Google, Yahoo, Bing and DuckDuckGo. I can now search on the go with DuckDuckGo.
Less convenience, better overall package
Of course, you shouldn’t fool yourself. DuckDuckGo is not as good or convenient as Google. You will have to do without many integrations, such as seeing opening hours, directions and the busiest hours of the day directly on Google when you search for a store or restaurant. Or the handy answer cards that Google provides for some questions, giving you the answer without having to go to the actual page. Here, Google simply has the edge.
But if you can do without such niceties, you should definitely try DuckDuckGo. It is not a multi-tool like Google, but simply a search engine. However, this search engine works quite well and can be extended by bangs in almost any direction. For that alone, you could use DuckDuckGo. But the most important thing is privacy. I don’t want Google to record everything I do day in and day out, and therefore I accept worse search results from time to time. In a pinch, I search with !g on Google – but anonymously!