Blekko, Ixquick and DuckDuckGo search engines don’t retain search queries
June 24, 2013 5 Comments
Part of the outrage over the NSA domestic spying program is that search engine companies, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, are perfectly happy to hand over the queries executed by their customers. I can hear them saying, “If you don’t have anything to hide, you have nothing to fear.” That was the comment from Senator Numbskull from South Carolina and challenged by many who asked Senator Numbskull to release his email records to the public since of course he should have nothing to hide.
Now many people are looking for “private” search engines that don’t keep records of customers searches or allow customers to set their privacy conditions. There are some choices including Blekko, Ixquick and DuckDuckGo.
While Google’s market share has not seen a noticeable dent, privacy search engines like US-based DuckDuckGo and European-based Ixquick have seen jumps in traffic from users seeking to limit their online tracks.
“I think people are seeking out privacy alternatives,” said Gabriel Weinberg, founder of DuckDuckGo, an engine created in 2007, which does not store IP addresses or create profiles of users.
“What people type in their search engines is their most personal things,” Weinberg said. “It’s a little creepy that a search engine can know so much about you.”
DuckDuckGo had been growing slowly in recent years, but its traffic charts showed a surge after the first news broke June 6 of the government’s PRISM surveillance program. By June 20, traffic had hit nearly three million queries, double the level of a year earlier.
More than half of DuckDuckGo traffic comes from outside the United States, Weinberg said.
Dutch-based Ixquick, which also uses the name StartPage, said it too has seen a dramatic jump in usage after news of the PRISM data sharing program.
Last week, the two meta-search engines — which use the results of Google and other search sites and strip out identifying information — served as many as 3.6 million queries.
“This growth has been sustained, it shows no signs of slowing down,” said spokeswoman Katherine Albrecht.
The revelations about PRISM “really have woken people up,” she said.
Another search engine, California-based Blekko, allows users to select privacy settings and keeps no data if the user selects “do not track.”
“Even if you are not a criminal, you probably make searches that you don’t want your minister, boss, or spouse to know about,” said Blekko’s Greg Lindahl.
Weinberg said DuckDuckGo’s model allows it to make money through “keyword” advertising, without stored profiles. So if someone is searching for a “mortgage,” they might see ads for banks.
This differs from search engines that track the pages people visit and then deliver related ads, a practice known as “retargeting.”
“Retargeting is effective only for a small amount of people, the rest are just annoyed by it,” he said.
Danny Sullivan, editor in chief at the specialized website Search Engine Land, said these kinds of search engines were “interesting” but unlikely to have a major market impact.
“It’s extremely unlikely in the next three to five years that any player will come along and take a sizeable share away from Google,” he said.
There are some disadvantages to using search engines that do not keep records and tailor current search results using past search results.
He said Google does not force people to create a profile that can be used to connect with its other services.
“You can go to Google, and you can do a search without being logged in, and you still get very good results,” Sullivan said.
“If you do log in and connect to these services, Google blows DuckDuckGo out of the water. When it has access to your calendar and search history, Google can predict your answers before you even ask them.”
There are several interesting question that come to mind. Will the government force these new search engines to retain their records? What types of innovations will emerge that allow search customers to retain control of their search records rather than the search companies. Already, Blekko lets the customer select the level of privacy. But, it would be good for the user to have final control over search records.