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Technology & Innovation

How One Search Engine Makes Money Without Tracking Its Users

Sometimes a small business model is the way to go, so companies don’t have to sell off user data to make money.

After the news about PRISM and US surveillance broke two years ago, DuckDuckGo had its best week ever with 2.54 million searches — a 37 percent spike in traffic from its previous week, according to Technically.

If you’re not familiar with DuckDuckGo, it’s perhaps one of the best ways to search without having your queries tracked and saved. DuckDuckGo’s founder Gabriel Weinberg summed up the company’s stance in an interview, “If the FBI or NSA comes to us, we have nothing to tie back to you.” It’s the founding mission of the site: We do not track.

It’s a rarity in this world — a free service saying it won’t track and sell your searches to the highest bidder. A business model that Christian Rudder, the co-founder of OK Cupid, would disagree with. He believes that you pay for a service with your data, rather than laying down coin:

But other proponents of the privacy movement, like Andrew Keen, an Internet entrepreneur and founder of, think this business model is creepy.

DuckDuckGo is a business — a successful business — and Weinberg was proud to report in a recent interview with CNBC that the company is “doing about 3 billion searches a year.” So, how are they able to survive without data tracking?

Well, for one, they’re based in Pennsylvania — not Silicon Valley. Weinberg also explained they make their money by serving users with ads from a system where companies bid to appear in the engine’s “organic” search results. For example, type in “car” or “mortgage rates” and some ads will appear at the top of the search results.

Weinberg elaborated further saying that where Google has free mail and document services, DuckDuckGo does one thing: search. It doesn’t require personal data in order to make money. 

With more and more consumers asking for systems that don’t track, DuckDuckGo is a wonderful alternative to Google (I haven’t used Google search in about two years). The only thing the company needs to work on in order to grow is brand awareness. Apple has already added the search engine as one of the default options in iOS and its Safari browser, and Firefox has it as an option as well. Here, consumers have a chance to vote with their data and not use services that track. Eventually, businesses will get the message.

Watch the full interview at CNBC.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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