Google is far and away the most popular search engine — but sometimes it’s more like Big Brother and less friendly. In fact, for those concerned about privacy, Google goes beyond certain boundaries by collecting your personal data, and serving you ads based on what it collects. Enter DuckDuckGo, a privacy -focused search engine with its own desktop extension and mobile browser app.
DuckDuckGo prides 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 competitor. But how does it really stack up on Google? To find out, I switched to DuckDuckGo and used the service exclusively for a week. Here are my five main takeaways.
1. DuckDuckGo is refreshing
I was amazed at the privacy features of DuckDuckGo at how liberating they are. The service insists that it does not collect user data or track you on various websites. It also doesn’t associate your browsing with your IP address, and it won’t save your search history.
For someone who has used Google most of his or her adult life, it feels weird. I can hardly remember a time when every move I made was not tracked, evaluated, and then marketed back to me through targeted suggestions and ads.
Using DuckDuckGo takes me back to a simpler time when a search engine was only there to answer questions like, “What’s the best laptop for under $ 1000?” or “What is the nickname of Tim Robbins’ character in Top Gun? ” (This is Merlin.)
Privacy is DuckDuckGo’s biggest draw, and it’s applied in a way that doesn’t feel restrictive. The whole time I use the search engine, I’m not bothered by the lack of personalization. Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo won’t automatically suggest new searches because it doesn’t collect your search history, but it does seem 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, it also prevents third parties from tracking you as well.
2. DuckDuckGo has a nice UI
Before I started using DuckDuckGo, I had this picture of an empty search engine, a la early 2000s Google. I was proven wrong. So wrong. The designers of DuckDuckGo have 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 recreate the wheel.
Make no mistake, DuckDuckGo has a similar feel to Google (but again, so do all modern search engines). Elements like ad placements and knowledge panels are ripped straight from Google. However, this is not a knock on DuckDuckGo. The engine’s “if it’s not broken, don’t fix” approach to design works well.
They even cleaned it up a bit and added some welcome changes. For example, DuckDuckGo does not divide results into pages. Instead, when you reach the bottom of a page, you can simply click “View more results” in an endless scroll. It was a small tweak, but it felt better than clicking back and forth through pages and pages.
3. Yes, you can escape from the ads
This type coincides with the first point on this list: Because DuckDuckGo doesn’t track your browsing history, it can’t provide you with targeted personalized ads.
As you use its services, Google creates a profile for you based on personal data, such as your search habits and purchase history. This data is applied to ad targeting, leading to highly specific ads appearing on virtually every website you visit. For example, when I searched Google for stuff toys to buy for my young nephew’s birthday, every website I visited in the next few weeks kept showing me Pokemon plushies on their banner advertisements.
But I don’t have the same advertisements that haunt me while using DuckDuckGo. When I search for something, the results page will only show a few relevant ads on the right side, or above the first results. These ads were only relevant to what I was looking for, and I was not followed while browsing other websites. In fact, while using DuckDuckGo, I noticed fewer ads in general. In a day and age when we are constantly bombarded with flashing ads and pop-ups, this made for a really enjoyable browsing experience.
4. You will exchange some smart searches for privacy
Google is great for finding things I don’t quite remember. I’m putting out some random facts that I am do remember, and it will usually give me the answer. When I tried both search types on DuckDuckGo, it just had no algorithms (or data?) To deliver.
In the screenshot below, you can see that I’m looking for the name of a movie (Men Staring at Goats) based on a random scene. Since I didn’t know the name of the movie, I searched instead for “film george clooney do you have superpowers scene”. Google returned the movie I was looking for in the first result, while DuckDuckGo could not find it. Now this is a fairly specific example, but users rely on Google delivering good results with sparse inputs.
Of course, one of the main reasons why Google is so effective is that it collects and stores user data, and then adapts it for personalization. Without tapping into a massive library of contextual data, DuckDuckGo will continue to lag behind Google in the returned accuracy of the result.
5. I really miss Google maps
After exclusively using DuckDuckGo for a week, I can say I officially miss the way Google search is seamlessly attached to Google maps. Sure, DuckDuckGo has a map feature provided by Apple, but it’s not the same. Like when I use an iPhone, I prefer to use Google Maps rather than pre-installed Apple Maps. It feels better in terms of available data and its reliability.
Another thing I missed was direct access to the entire Google ecosystem. In my personal and professional life, I rely on Google apps like Drive and Google Workspaces. Google has done a great job of connecting all of their features seamlessly together. What I can’t incorporate into my search engine experience is like I’m missing a piece of the puzzle.
Will I permanently switch to DuckDuckGo? Should you?
Should you switch to DuckDuckGo? It depends on what you want from your search engine. Do you value privacy above all else? Then go ahead and make the switch. Do you want the most accurate results and most advanced features? Then you want to stay with Google.
For me, I plan to continue using DuckDuckGo. I am a tired millennial and I grew up in the age of internet data tracking. I have long accepted that I will sacrifice my privacy for more accurate results. But what I discovered from this little experiment is that, for the most part, what we all find online is pretty simple and straightforward.
While Google can accurately predict what you’re looking for, DuckDuckGo needs a little more hands -on. This doesn’t mean DuckDuckGo can’t find what you’re looking for. This simply means that you may need to change your search parameters. The streamlined Google web browsing I’m used to through cookies, auto-fill, and personalization is of course a convenience. But without these bells and whistles, the results are pretty much the same.
And I think, if the results are the same, why not make a mistake on the privacy side?