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Tech by VICE

DuckDuckGo Keeps Snoopers out of Your Search History

Enter: DuckDuckGo, the best search engine with the worst name that will keep your searches (relatively) safe.

by Zach Sokol
Jun 10 2013, 4:20pm
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In light of the recent NSA scandal, Motherboard hooked you up with a guide to how to live underground with lower risk of the government spying on your doings and happenings (though chances are that your eBay searches are not that important in the eyes of PRISM). The article noted that the best way to browse the web while playing John Doe is to use Tor, as 'private browsing' and 'incognito mode' on Chrome, Firefox and Safari still use cookies to track what you're searching online.

The only problem is that Tor is slow as hell to use for regular browsing. So if you're looking for some added privacy for your regular searches, try DuckDuckGo, a great search engine with a terrible name that will keep your searches (relatively) safe. 

DuckDuckGo (DDG) differs itself from search engines like Bing and Google in that it doesn't use cookies, does not log user information or store IP addresses, and eschews the filter bubble that plagues other engines. To clarify, filter bubbles are essentially online neighborhoods that mold the web into something that caters more to our personal tastes and preferences based on past usage. The filter bubble can limit our access to new information and search results; it can also make our identities easier to track.

DuckDuckGo gives you results that are a compilation of several sources, such as Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Bing and its own web crawler called the DuckDuckBot. It mainly uses data from crowdsourced sites to give you relevant search results. This is all well and good, but the interesting aspect of the site relates to its privacy measures. 

The site's privacy page explains that DDG's goal is to prevent 'search leakage'—search terms that are sent to the site you clicked on as well as your user agent and IP address—which can be used to identify you online. When you use DDG, other sites know that they received a visitor, but they won't know the data you searched before entering the site.

The search engine knows nothing about you, so it cannot give different results to different users. Anyone who types "Motherboard" will get the same results. DDG also changes links from a number of major web sites to lead users to the encrypted versions of those sites, such as Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon. 

If that's not enough to satisfy those who've seen A Scanner Darkly one too many times, DDG also offers a POST request, which doesn't show your search in your browser and subsequently doesn't send your searches to other sites. The search engine even has its own Tor exit enclave so you can get make anonymous searches using Tor and DDG simultaneously. 

There are other search engines that provide similar security. For example, Ixquick's Startpage searches Google for you, but then returns the results to users so Google only sees massive amounts of searches coming from Startpage's servers while leaving you anonymous.

I've heard it compared to Scroogle, the now-defunct Google eraser that would be receiving record-high hits if it were active this week. There are also Blekko and AskEraser, which do use your personal information, but delete it after 48 hours. The alternative secure searches are not as expansive or truly safe as DuckDuckGo, though, as they still use your IP address at one point or another. 

To be fair, it's probably not worth getting nervous that the NSA is recording when you use Google and for how long. And if the government really wanted to track your web usage, it definitely could. But as a matter of principle, it might be time to take a hiatus from the mega search engines, and favor the quiet and safe little guys

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