Google is by far the most popular search engine, but sometimes it can feel more like Big Brother than a friendly assistant. Indeed, for the privacy-conscious, Google exceeds certain limits by collecting your personal data and serving you advertisements based on what it collects. Enter DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused search engine with its own desktop extension and mobile browser app.
DuckDuckGo presents itself as the anti-Google, promising not to track or collect your data. It offers a clean interface and familiar layout, and provides many of the features you’d expect from a search engine, but without those invasive data trackers. (If you’re concerned about privacy, also consider switching from Google Chrome to Firefox.)
On paper, DuckDuckGo seems like a worthy contender. But how does this really compare to Google? To find out, I switched to DuckDuckGo and used the service exclusively for a week. Here are my top five takeaways.
1. DuckDuckGo is refreshing
DuckDuckGo’s privacy features surprised me with how liberating it felt. The service insists that it does not collect user data or track you across different websites. It also does not associate your browsing with your IP address or log your search history.
For someone who’s used Google most of their adult life, this sounds oddly refreshing. I can barely remember a time when my every move wasn’t tracked, analyzed, and then resold via suggestions and targeted ads.
Using DuckDuckGo took me back to a simpler time when a search engine was only there to answer questions like “What’s the best laptop under $1000?” or “What was the nickname of Tim Robbins character in Top Gun?” (It was Merlin.)
Privacy is DuckDuckGo’s biggest draw, and it enforces it in a way that doesn’t seem restrictive. Throughout the time that I used the search engine, I didn’t feel inconvenienced by the lack of customization. Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo won’t automatically suggest new searches because it doesn’t collect your search history, but it felt like a small price to pay for more private browsing.
Another refreshing privacy feature: DuckDuckGo actively blocks external trackers from tracking you online. So not only does the service itself keep your browsing private, but it also prevents third parties from tracking you as well.
2. DuckDuckGo has a good user interface
Before I started using DuckDuckGo, I had this image of a simple search engine, à la Google in the early 2000s. It proved me wrong. Very bad. The designers of DuckDuckGo put a lot of thought into usability, and it shows. The interface is aesthetically pleasing with a clean and simple layout that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel.
Don’t get me wrong, DuckDuckGo has a similar feel to Google (but again, all modern search engines do). Things like ad placements and knowledge panels are pulled directly from Google. However, this is not necessarily a blow to DuckDuckGo. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” engine design approach works perfectly well.
They even cleaned it up a bit and added some welcome changes. For example, DuckDuckGo does not split results across multiple pages. Instead, when you reach the bottom of a page, you can just click “See more results” in an endless scroll. This is a minor tweak, but it was better than clicking back and forth through pages and pages.
3. Yes, you can escape ads
This goes hand in hand with the first point in this list: since DuckDuckGo does not track your browsing history, it cannot provide you with targeted personalized advertisements.
When you use its services, Google creates a profile about you based on personal data, such as your search habits and purchase history. This data is then applied to ad targeting, resulting in very specific ads appearing on seemingly every website you visit. For example, when I googled stuffed toys to buy for my young nephew’s birthday, every website I visited over the next few weeks kept showing me Pokemon plushies in their banner ads.
But I didn’t have any of those same advertising haunts while using DuckDuckGo. When I searched for something, the results page only showed a few related advertisements on the right side or above the top results. These ads were only relevant to what I was looking for and never followed me when I browsed other websites. In fact, using DuckDuckGo, I noticed fewer ads in general. At a time when we are constantly bombarded with flashing ads and pop-ups, this has made for a truly enjoyable browsing experience.
4. You’ll trade your research knowledge for confidentiality
Google is great for finding things I can’t quite remember. I enter some random facts that I do remember, and he will usually give me the answer. When I tried these same kinds of searches with DuckDuckGo, it just didn’t have the algorithms (or data?) to deliver.
In the screenshot below you can see that I was looking for the name of a movie (The men who watch the goats) based on a random scene. Since I didn’t know the name of the movie, I searched instead using “movie george clooney do you have superpowers scene”. Google returned the movie I was looking for on the first result, when DuckDuckGo just couldn’t find it. This is a fairly specific example, but users have come to rely on Google to get great results with few entries.
Of course, one of the main reasons Google is so efficient is that it collects and stores user data and then tailors it for personalization. Without tapping into a massive library of contextual data, DuckDuckGo will continue to fall behind Google in terms of the accuracy of the results returned.
5. I really miss Google Maps
After using DuckDuckGo exclusively for a week, I can say that I officially miss the way Google Search seamlessly connects to Google Maps. Sure, DuckDuckGo has maps functionality provided by Apple, but that’s not the same thing. Just like when I use an iPhone, I prefer using Google Maps rather than the pre-installed Apple Maps. It’s just better in terms of available data and reliability.
Another thing I missed was direct access to the entire Google ecosystem. Both in my personal and professional life, I have come to rely on Google apps such as Drive and Google Workspaces. Google has done a great job connecting all of its features seamlessly. Not being able to incorporate them into my search engine experience felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle.
Will I permanently switch to DuckDuckGo? Should you?
Should I switch to DuckDuckGo? It depends on what you expect from your search engine. Do you value privacy above all else? So go ahead and make the switch. Do you want the most accurate results and the most advanced features? Then you’ll want to stick with Google.
As for me, I plan to continue using DuckDuckGo. I am a jaded millennial and grew up in the age of internet data tracking. I had long since accepted that my privacy would be sacrificed for more accurate results. But what I discovered from this little experiment is that, for the most part, what we are all looking for online is quite simple and straightforward.
While Google is able to accurately guess what you’re looking for, a bit more hands-on is required with DuckDuckGo. That doesn’t mean DuckDuckGo can’t find what you’re looking for. It just means that you may need to change your search settings. The simplified Google web browsing I’ve become accustomed to via cookies, autofill, and personalization is of course a convenience. But without those bells and whistles, the results are largely the same.
And I think if the results are the same, why not err on the side of confidentiality?