I have a confession to make. I haven’t “googled” anything for a long time. I haven’t run out of things to search for, (I still do web searches dozens of times a day), but for the last 18 months or so I have been using an alternative to Google, and I haven’t looked back once. Here’s why you might want to think about doing the same.
What is DuckDuckGo?
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that has several unique features that set it apart from the likes of Google, Bing or Yahoo!. Among the most important to me is privacy. DuckDuckGo does not collect or share any of your personal information when you complete a web search. It is, to all intents and purposes, completely anonymous. The same cannot be said for Google, Bing or Yahoo! who use this data to build a profile about you so that advertisers can target you with ads that inevitably follow you around the internet.
Privacy is Dead, Right?
The vast majority of the internet is free to use, but it’s not without a cost. There is an expression I like that sums this up well – If you didn’t buy the product, you are the product. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Bing and others all offer compelling free services, but whether you know it or not, they also collect large amounts of personal data from you when you use their products. Cookies, ads and other tracking tools watch your every move and record your online activities.
The truth is, your personal data is valuable, and an increasing number of people are trying to get a hold of as much of it as they can. Grocery stores collect data on you every time you use a store card. Email marketers track the clicks they get from newsletters you subscribe to. Internet Service Providers, research companies, telemarketers, political parties and countless other people all want to know more about you so that they can use that data to their advantage. As consumers, educators, parents and citizens of a digital world, we need to be aware of this.
However, I think we need to do more than just educate ourselves. We need to go further and help inform others (especially teens) of the trade off that they are making when they first start using these services. Are you comfortable with the kind of relationship you are entering into with these services? Are there alternatives with better privacy policies? Is there any way to take a stand against this incessant data mining? Questions like these led me to DuckDuckGo in the first place and started me thinking more about online privacy.
Is DuckDuckGo Any Good?
Actually, it is. I wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t. I started off using DuckDuckGo on a trial basis but I couldn’t help think I would revert back to Google or Bing before too long. However, I stuck with it for several days and doggedly refused to use anything else, just to see if it really could work for me or not. What I soon came to realize was that the search results I got from DuckDuckGo were actually very good, and when I compared the keyword searches with Google or Bing I got similar (or better) results.
It is also a growing service. Last I checked, DuckDuckGo was handling an average of 11.3 million searches per day. This number is nowhere close to the billions of searches that Google handles, but it is a number that is increasing all the time and it is testament to the fact that they serve up great search queries. This means a sizeable number of people do use DuckDuckGo as their default search engine.
Does it Do Any Tricks?
Indeed it does. DuckDuckGo has some useful options like themes, region and time sensitive searches, but you would probably expect features like that. It has a safe search mode that is enabled by default and there are numerous custom options you can explore in the settings, including the ability to turn off advertisements. You will also notice that, depending on what you search for, images, news, videos, definitions, maps and more appear as instant answers at the top of your results page. Music, recipes, weather, and movies are also among these results with the ability to play audio and video files from the search page, as opposed to visiting a site like YouTube that tracks your viewing history.
However, the real power of DuckDuckGo is found in the bangs. Bangs are a way to quickly search thousands of your favorite sites with a handy keyboard shortcut. Bangs use the search engine on your favorite sites to give you exactly the results you need. For instance, let’s say you wanted to look for an external hard drive on eBay. You could go to ebay.com and type your keywords into the search box at the top of the page. However, with DuckDuckGo, all you need to do is type !ebay external hard drive and it will display the same website search results.
Note: You can do something similar on Google with a search query like site:ebay.com external hard drive, but this will give you a list of search results on Google’s website, as opposed to ebay.com, so it is an extra click if you want to view any of those results and it is more cumbersome if you want to view more information on multiple results.
As you can see below, there are bangs for all kind of sites and services on the web. In fact, as of today, there are at least 8,225 so the chances are high that a bang exists for the site that you want to use. If for some reason it doesn’t, you can make a suggestion for a website to add. You can use bangs directly from the search bar on DuckDuckGo.com or via the address bar in your browser if you make DuckDuckGo your default search provider.
Is DuckDuckGo a Good Option for Schools?
Both Microsoft and Google have strict privacy options in regards to how it handles the data from teachers and students who use their services. That said, there is no reason I can think of as to why a school couldn’t use DuckDuckGo as the default search engine on school devices. For instance, it could form part of a great conversation around how the web works today. It is has safe search built-in by default and is also a great option for students when they graduate and are starting to think about using some of the same services as individuals – services that are not governed by the privacy agreements they were previously bound to between technology companies and their school.
Additional Resources for Schools: