Is DuckDuckGo safe: benefits vs limitations
If DuckDuckGo is on your radar, odds are you’re already a privacy-conscious individual. The DuckDuckGo browser and search engine have a reputation for respecting users’ privacy, making them a popular option for consumers who don’t want their data tracked or collected.
If you’re still not sure if it’s really trustworthy, we’ve broken down the most important factors to consider below.
Is DuckDuckGo safe?
Generally speaking, yes, DuckDuckGo is safe. Since DuckDuckGo doesn’t actually store your data, it reduces the risk of your personal information being stolen, leaked, and shared with third parties such as marketers or the government. However, it’s not a 100% safeguard for your online privacy.
DuckDuckGo comes with great privacy features but also has its limitations. Some websites will still be able to track you and your internet service provider (ISP) will still be able to see your searches, for example. So, while it’s a great place to start, DuckDuckGo is most effective if used in combination with other privacy tools such as a trusted VPN.
DuckDuckGo’s privacy benefits
The DuckDuckGo browser implements the HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) protocol everywhere, which provides an additional layer of security by encrypting your data when transmitting it between your web browser and the website you’re visiting. This encryption process scrambles the information, making it unreadable to anyone trying to intercept or eavesdrop on your data.
In addition to encryption, HTTPS ensures your data integrity by using digital certificates to verify that the information sent and received hasn’t been tampered with by malicious actors during transmission between your browser and the website.
HTTPS also employs Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols to authenticate the identity of the website you are visiting. This means you can trust that you are connecting to a legitimate website and not an imposter posing as the real thing.
Do Not Track
Through its Global Privacy Control (GPC) feature, the DuckDuckGo browser actively warns sites against collecting, sharing, or selling your data. Unlike other browsers’ Do Not Track (DNT) feature, which is often disregarded by websites, DuckDuckGo’s GPC holds more power.
A regular DNT sends a signal to websites you visit, indicating that you prefer not to be tracked across the internet for behavioral advertising and data collection purposes. However, it isn’t a standardized requirement, which means that websites can choose to ignore it.
DuckDuckGo’s GPC is a more advanced privacy feature that goes beyond the traditional DNT setting found in most browsers. Similar to a DNT, it conveys your privacy preference to websites you visit, indicating that you do not want your data to be collected, shared, or sold. But unlike a DNT, it’s more enforceable and legally binding. So if a website fails to respect the GPC request, DuckDuckGo has the potential to take legal action in specific regions where this feature is recognized and upheld by privacy laws.
DuckDuckGo’s private search is designed to prioritize your privacy. Unlike other popular search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, DuckDuckGo operates under a strict “no-logs” policy, which means it doesn’t store any user-identifiable data, such as IP addresses, search queries, or user-agent information (like device details and web browser used).
Instead of creating a user profile to track your search behavior to target you with personalized ads, DuckDuckGo provides neutral search results and displays ads linked to the search term from each individual session.
No search leakage
DuckDuckGo also takes a strong stance against search leakage, which is when search engines expose your search terms to the websites you visit.
So to protect your privacy, not only does DuckDuckGo not collect your data, it acts as an intermediary or proxy between you and the search results. Instead of sending your search query directly to the target website, DuckDuckGo retrieves the search results from its own servers.
DuckDuckGo uses the POST method for searches instead of the traditional GET method most search engines use. In the GET method, search terms are appended to the URL, which could be leaked to the websites you click on. However, with the POST method, the search terms are sent in the request body, making them less susceptible to leakage.
DuckDuckGo also ensures that “referrer” headers are not sent to the websites you visit. Referrer headers contain the URL of the page that referred you to the current page, which could potentially include your search terms. By not sending referrer headers, DuckDuckGo prevents the leakage of your search queries to third-party websites.
If you get the Privacy Essentials browser extension and mobile app, you’ll also benefit from an integrated ad blocker. This will prevent intrusive advertising such as banner ads, pop-up ads, and interstitial ads from appearing on websites you visit.
In both the mobile app and browser extension, DuckDuckGo offers a super handy privacy feature called the Privacy Grade. When you visit a website, DuckDuckGo looks at whether the site uses encryption, whether it uses third-party trackers, what data it collects from visitors, and how it handles the data it collects. Based on these factors, DuckDuckGo assigns the website a rating from “A” to “F,” “A” being private and “F” being a privacy nightmare.
This cool feature gives you greater control over your online experiences and helps you make more informed decisions about which sites to trust and share your personal information with.
DuckDuckGo’s mobile app also features the Burn Bar, which allows you to erase your browsing data and all cookies from your device each time you close a session, combining the benefits of browsing in incognito mode with DuckDuckGo’s anonymous search function.
The biggest distinction between the burn bar and incognito mode is that, when you enable the Burn Bar feature, it ensures that your search history and cookies are automatically deleted as soon as you close the individual browsing session rather than after closing the entire browser. Better yet, the data removal not only applies to your device but also extends to DuckDuckGo’s servers and the wider web.
Content Security Policy
DuckDuckGo’s Content Security Policy (CSP) prevents your browser from accessing any known malicious sites. It’s a set of directives that control which sources of content are considered safe to load and execute. And by specifying the allowed content sources, CSP prevents Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attacks.
DuckDuckGo Privacy limitations
Despite being a pioneer in privacy protection, DuckDuckGo does raise some minor privacy concerns worth noting.
Displays your search terms in the URL
DuckDuckGo displays search terms in the URL, setting it apart from other private search engines like StartPage which encrypts all URLs to prevent interpretation. While this allows for the convenience of revisiting recently visited sites and aids DuckDuckGo in suggesting fixes for misspelled words, it can be viewed as a privacy oversight.
Displays your search terms in the browser history
Because the search terms appear in your browser’s address bar, they subsequently become part of the browser history. While you have the option to delete your history or use private browsing, this extra step may be overlooked, potentially compromising your privacy if someone gains access to your computer or network.
Despite being privacy-driven, it could be argued that DuckDuckGo’s advertising and affiliate marketing business model still profits from user activity. However, DuckDuckGo maintains that it does not sell your personal data to marketers and can sustain itself without tracking users.
Unlike traditional search engines like Google that rely heavily on user data to target and personalize advertisements, DuckDuckGo’s ad-driven approach prioritizes your privacy and data protection. It doesn’t involve tracking or creating personalized profiles based on your search behavior. Instead, it shows non-intrusive ads that are contextually relevant to your search queries.
!Bangs feature forgoes privacy protection
DuckDuckGo’s !Bangs is a handy little feature that allows you to quickly perform searches on specific websites directly from the DuckDuckGo search bar. All you have to do is type an exclamation mark followed by a site’s alias or abbreviation (!site).
While it may be convenient, it kind of defeats the purpose of using DuckDuckGo since it doesn’t extend DuckDuckGo’s privacy protection to the sites you visit. Using !Bangs to search Google is essentially the same as conducting the search directly on Google, meaning that Google will still track your searches and data.
Can reveal your location
DuckDuckGo offers the option to share your approximate location if you’re looking for more localized results. While this may raise some eyebrows, it is only an option, and DuckDuckGo conducts these searches without sharing your IP, specific location, or personally identifiable information with third parties.
Another aspect that may be cause for concern is DuckDuckGo’s location in the US. As a result, US law enforcement could potentially compel DuckDuckGo to hand over logs if required. However, DuckDuckGo emphasizes that it is not obligated to collect any logs in the first place, which means there is no data to hand over.
Pros and cons of DuckDuckGo
- HTTPS Everywhere: Encrypts data transmission, ensuring secure and private connections to websites.
- Do Not Track (GPC): Enforces privacy preferences and is legally binding, offering strong protection against data collection.
- Private Search (No-logs policy): Does not store user-identifiable data, providing neutral search results without profiling users.
- No Search Leakage: Acts as an intermediary to prevent search terms from being exposed to visited websites.
- Ad Blocking: Privacy Essentials extension blocks intrusive ads for a more private browsing experience.
- Privacy Grade: Offers a rating system to assess website privacy, empowering users to make informed decisions.
- Burn Bar: Automatically erases browsing data and cookies, enhancing privacy during individual sessions.
- Content Security Policy: Prevents browser access to known malicious sites, reducing the risk of XSS attacks.
- Displays Search Terms in URL: Search terms appear in the URL, potentially compromising privacy.
- Displays Search Terms in Browser History: Search terms become part of the browser history, requiring additional steps to remove.
- Ad-Driven Business Model: While privacy-focused, DuckDuckGo profits from advertising and affiliate marketing.
- !Bangs Feature forgoes Privacy Protection: Using !bangs may expose search data to third-party sites.
- Can Reveal Your Location: While optional, sharing approximate location for localized results may raise privacy concerns.
- US-Based: Located in the US, potentially subject to US law enforcement requests, although it claims not to collect logs.
How to use DuckDuckGo safely
DuckDuckGo undoubtedly goes the extra mile to safeguard your online privacy, but it’s essential to acknowledge its limitations. Fortunately, you can enhance both your privacy and security with the following five measures:
1) Browse with the DuckDuckGo browser
Even if you use a super privacy-driven search engine like DuckDuckGo, many mainstream browsers like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge may still save and share your search history. And privacy modes like incognito, don’t do much to prevent this. That’s why it’s best to use the DuckDuckGo search engine in combination with the browser. If you aren’t a fan of the browser, however, you can try pairing it with another private browser like Firefox or Brave.
2) Browse with Tor for ultimate privacy
While the DuckDuckGo browser is suitable for the average user’s privacy needs, try combining the DuckDuckGo search engine with Tor (The Onion Router) for the ultimate secure browsing experience.
Tor routes your browsing data through multiple encrypted servers, rendering your internet use untraceable. To use these two together, simply browse with the Tor browser, and when you enter search terms into the address bar, DuckDuckGo will perform the search by default.
3) Pay attention to Privacy Grades
Don’t let DuckDuckGo’s Privacy Grade feature go to waste. Always pay attention to the single icon or letter displayed in the browser’s main toolbar, indicating the website’s privacy rating from “A” (safest) to “F” (less secure). We recommend you steer clear of any websites with a low score, even though DuckDuckGo improves the grade by blocking all trackers.
4) Combine with a cybersecurity and privacy suite
While you may have heightened privacy settings, a private browser and search engine aren’t the solution to all of your privacy and security worries. We recommend using a privacy suite such as Surfshark One that offers a reliable antivirus to protect you against viruses and malware and a trusted VPN (virtual private network) to encrypt all of your internet traffic, along with other privacy and security features.
Is DuckDuckGo legit?
Yes, DuckDuckGo is totally legitimate, renowned for its commitment to user privacy and not tracking users, making it a trusted choice.
How does DuckDuckGo work?
DuckDuckGo sources results from diverse providers, prioritizing privacy by not storing personal information or search history, ensuring a secure and reliable search experience.
Does DuckDuckGo store your search history?
No, DuckDuckGo doesn’t store your search history. To prevent access, use incognito mode or DuckDuckGo’s private browser, clearing your search history after each session.
How does DuckDuckGo make money?
DuckDuckGo generates revenue through sponsored ads and affiliate marketing while respecting its core principle of user privacy.
Is DuckDuckGo free?
Absolutely, DuckDuckGo offers a completely free, ad-free, and privacy-focused search experience.
Can you browse the dark web with DuckDuckGo?
No, DuckDuckGo is not designed for the dark web. It prioritizes privacy and safety on the surface web, or clearnet.
Is DuckDuckGo owned by Google?
No, DuckDuckGo is an independent and privately held company, distinct from Google.
Does DuckDuckGo use Google? No, DuckDuckGo relies on its search index and sources results from various providers for unbiased and privacy-focused search results.
Who owns DuckDuckGo?
DuckDuckGo was founded by Gabriel Weinberg in 2008, and he remains a prominent figure in the company’s leadership.
Is DuckDuckGo a VPN?
No, DuckDuckGo is not a VPN but a reputable search engine emphasizing user privacy.
Should you use a VPN with DuckDuckGo?
While DuckDuckGo is secure, combining it with a VPN enhances privacy and protection, especially on public networks or in regions with strict online censorship.