Blogs

DuckDuckGo upholding user privacy on the internet


  • DuckDuckGo offering services which protect user privacy
  • Achieved profitability in the last five years, despite non-tracking user data
  • Privacy is increasingly becoming a concern for individuals and governments worldwide

 

Data is akin to a gold mine in today’s global environment and data safety has become a major concern for individuals and governments globally. Moreover, with the rise of smartphones and cheap availability of internet data, internet use has risen many folds in the past decade. This has led to several businesses offering services online in order to reach a vast majority of the population. Further, this has generated huge amounts of online data and traffic. While search engines have played a pivotal role in mining this huge database and providing the relevant data to its intended users/traffic. Thus, businesses have been increasingly reliant on these search engines to direct traffic to their websites. In order to imagine the importance of search engines, the example of the search engine giant Google can be considered, which has become one of the most valued global companies within a short span of a decade. Furthermore, among the search engines, Google has the highest market share globally (barring  Russia and China).

Google controls most of the data flow online and thus, dictate the consumer behaviours and preferences online. It does the same by storing and analysing user data to identify patterns and preferences and on the basis of this, provide curated content to users (including personalised advertisements). This has made Google a preferred choice for advertisements at the expense of user privacy.

In light of several privacy scandals in the recent years (Facebook once considered selling user access data to the third party and Timehop losing personal information of over 21 million accounts) and a host of virus attacks (Ransomware, etc.) as well as Google facing privacy and antitrust scrutiny (on accusation of market distorting behaviour globally), users are becoming more and more wary of their data and privacy breaches.

Hence, with everything being tracked and stored by the search engine and other online social media giants, it poses a grave threat for the global population and a massive data breach can become catastrophic for the global economy. The threat is real and has been acknowledged by regulators and major governments world over, however, there has not been any concrete legislation for regulating the data and user privacy. Though, many governments are now considering to amend their competition policy to keep a check on these platforms’ reach and help smaller technology innovators get out from under the shadow of tech giants.

Gabriel Weinberg is among the most outspoken critics of the internet giants, he examined the importance of privacy way back in 2010 when he started DuckDuckGo that offers privacy-focused alternative to Google. The site has steadily grown since its inception from an average 79,000 daily searches (2010) to 38.8 million daily searches (June 2019), totalling 31 billion searches overall. Although its market share is still very small (less than 1% as compared to over 85% of Google’s), however, it has tripled over the last two years on the backs of rising focus on privacy protection and is estimated to grow even further in the coming years.

The small size of DuckDuckGo (only 65 employees), with self-funded operations (having had only two relatively small fundraising rounds of ~$13 million [which is less than what Google makes in an hour]) has not deterred its resolve. In addition, the company has been profitable in the past five years. Thus, DuckDuckGo has become a poster boy for the future where companies stand with their users (without violating their privacy) and still makes money.

DuckDuckGo makes money through advertising and affiliate revenue (sponsored links). Here, unlike other search engines, it serves contextual keyword-based ads rather than pervasively tracking users to offer personalised ads. All these advertisements are syndicated through Yahoo (part of Yahoo-Microsoft Alliance). On top of this, the company gives an option to its user to disable advertisements through settings.

Additionally, the company has affiliate programs with Amazon and eBay through which it receives a small percentage of its sale if the traffic is generated for these sites, however, no personal information is passed on to these sites. Further, the company uses Apple maps for all location services, which operates under the same principle of privacy protection. While DuckDuckGo does not maintain user data, it pulls geographical locations from each query and serves local results for things like news, restaurants, etc. The company has clearly laid down privacy policy providing details on the small amount of information that it collects. They do not allow cookies except for saving site settings and also do not store IP addresses. All these features make the company very secure and the users’ privacy is protected while browsing the internet. DuckDuckGo’s CEO has been very vocal about the privacy concerns and has repeatedly called for privacy-focused legislations.

The company has further expanded beyond search engines to offer privacy protection everywhere on the internet, through a plug-in which blocks invisible trackers (Google and others) and prevents users from being tracked elsewhere, while providing a privacy and security grade for every website. It is interesting to note that the plug-in gives Google’s main website a D grade as it tracks users across the web while maintaining permanent logs, which might pose a security threat.

Addedly, with the rising focus on privacy and increasing threats of privacy breaches, a host of companies have started offering services which maintain user privacy. For instance, Proton Technologies (Swiss startup) is taking on Gmail with its alternate email offering. French search engine Qwant is another company offering pro-privacy services. Further, browsers such as Firefox (enhanced tracking protection feature as a default), Safari (Apple continues to add privacy-focused features) and Brave are more focused on privacy vis-à-vis Google Chrome.

For people caring about privacy, DuckDuckGo, ‘the search engine that doesn’t track you’, is a reminder that it is possible to offer the internet services without logging every move made by users. It also offers a glimpse into what the internet would look like if companies are forced to scale back on their surveillance economy. Google, the pioneer of this surveillance capitalism has effectively been monetising every possible user data it gets hold on. Although DuckDuckGo has turned profitable on mere ‘contextual’ advertising, its success is currently at a nascent stage and also weighs on the fact that it is still extreme difficulty to sell privacy-focused services to consumers. Things might not be easy for the company in the future, though tightening of rules and regulations from various governments across the world along with changing consumer preferences is likely to have a positive impact on its business going forward. Small but important aspects that add optimism like the outcome of the recent Pew Survey, where more than half of adult Facebook users adjusted their privacy settings in light of the privacy scandals in 2018. Another recent RSA survey indicated that only 17% of Americans believe that personalised advertisements are ethical. These kinds of aspects are likely to lead to a broader change on how consumers treat and will be ready to share their data in the coming years.

Your Rating

Tire manufacturing industry, analysing the cost and margin trends

The global market for tire manufacturing stands at $180 billion. Michelin anticipates the long-term demand to rise at the rate of 5 to 10% a year in developing markets and 1 to 2% a year in mature...

Failure of Amazon in China, an analysis

E-commerce market in China Online consumer product retailers in China Performance of Amazon in China   Amazon is a global e-commerce player selling a wide...

An analysis of Malaysian rubber glove industry

How big is the international rubber gloves market? Reasons behind the healthy and steady growth Malaysia’s role in the industry Why are companies struggling for stable...

Rapidly growing Indian online food delivery industry and its unrealised profits

Evolution of online food delivery industry in India Geographical penetration and scope for expansion Key players and their zeal to balance revenue and costs   Online...

Can lithium-ion anode demand for needle coke reduce availability for electrode players?

What is needle coke? Uses of needle coke Lithium-ion battery manufacturers demand needle coke   Needle coke? Needle coke is a specialised form of petroleum coke...

Is the radio broadcasting industry in the U.S. dying? An analysis

Radio, the most powerful medium of reach in the U.S. Why the industry is moving at a slow pace? Radio’s health is still sound, will it continue in the long-term?   ...

Sri Lankan economic and political crisis

Sri Lanka’s latest political crisis, who governs the nation? Poor economic indicators adding to the nation’s woes   Sri Lanka is currently embroiled in a political crisis,...

Carbon black industry, strong potential for supernormal profitability?

What is carbon black? Its uses Impact of the environmental curbs in China   What is carbon black? Carbon black is a fine carbon powder and it is a disorderly...

Blockchain, an emerging concept, a disruptive technology (Part 1)

What is blockchain? How is blockchain revolutionary? Cryptocurrency, the new money ICOs, the new way of raising money Summary Blockchain is a software architecture...

Housing finance market in India. Is affordable housing driving the growth?

Overview of the housing finance sector in India Key players dominating the segment and their dynamics Factors driving aggressive demand for housing   The housing...

Rice industry outlook 2018

Major rice producers and consumers Global rice trade Factors dominating the trade   Rice is the 3 rd largest produced agricultural commodity in the world, after...

Indian wood panel industry, growth drivers and present trends

Current market scenario in the Indian plywood industry Growth in the housing sector and rapid urbanisation to provide the boost GST rationalization to reduce price difference...

Rise of Ant Financial, will the success story continue?

What is Ant Financial? Journey to become king of unicorn Will regulatory curbs hinder its success journey?    Ant Financial, an affiliate and integral part...

Baidu’s Apollo, the underdog of autonomous driving platform

Overview of the autonomous vehicle sector in the global automobile industry Search giant Baidu’s entry into the autonomous driving space Baidu’s approach in becoming a front-runner...

Malaysian rubber glove industry, an update

Rising global demand for gloves Impact of USP 800’s implementation and the US-China trade war on Malaysia’s rubber gloves industry Key challenges for the Malaysian rubber...

Unnoticed growth of the media and entertainment industry in India

Overall industry brief Growth of the M&E industry and its segments Major supporting elements of this growth   Media and Entertainment (M&E) is a very wide industry...

Battle for the textile and apparel industry in Southeast Asia

The reasons for China’s decreasing presence in the industry Initiatives by the governments in Southeast Asia to boost the textile trade Vietnam and Bangladesh’s quest to conquer...

OYO Rooms, an Indian start-up to enter Japan

Growth story of OYO Rooms in India Business model of OYO Rooms Analysis of strategy to enter Japan   OYO Rooms, the Indian start-up has decided to venture in Japan...

What’s in store for India’s first commercial REIT as it hit the market with Blackstone teaming up with Embassy Group

Overview of the partnership and assets of Embassy Office Parks Comparison of the Indian commercial office market space with other developed markets Road ahead for India’s...

German economy, will the slide continue?

Weakening global industrial demand weighs on Germany’s manufacturing sector Inflation and business climate take a hit with broader signs continuing to be subdued Future...