Is DuckDuckGo Safe? 5 Things to Know About this Anonymous Browser

Remember all the weird and wonderful things you’ve Googled over time? You probably can’t, but Google can! Who wants their every random thought going on permanent record?

Cue DuckDuckGo (DDG) – the playfully-named, privacy-focussed search engine. After the Snowden NSA revelations and rising fears around surveillance capitalism, folks have been flipping Google the bird and flocking to the duck side in droves.

Before you join the mass migration, let’s find out if DuckDuckGo is all it’s quacked up to be. Does DuckDuckGo really give you “privacy, simplified”, or is it a lame duck? How does it offer its services for free if you’re not, in one way or another, the product?

In this article, I’ll share everything I’ve scratched up about DDG. You’ll also learn how to use this anonymous search engine with maximum security and privacy so you’re not a sitting duck.

DuckDuckWho?

DuckDuckGo Home page    

Sick of being stalked online? DuckDuckGo can help.

Philadelphia-based entrepreneur Gabriel Weinberg founded DuckDuckGo in 2008. His company offers an increasingly popular, privacy-friendly search engine alternative to Google.

DuckDuckGo gathers results from over 400 sources, including Yahoo!, Bing, and Wikipedia (but never, ever Google). It also has a mobile app and desktop browser extension with additional privacy features like ad and tracker blockers.

An estimated 80 million people use DuckDuckGo’s free privacy tools (the private search engine, browser extension, and mobile app) to browse the web anonymously, although it’s hard to say exactly how many as DuckDuckGo doesn’t track its users!

Last year, DuckDuckGo answered over 35 billion search queries, up 46.4% from 2020. Major browsers like Apple, Mozilla, and even Google now offer DuckDuckGo as a search engine option–another sign of its growing popularity.

DDG privacy policy home screen  

Unlike other mainstream search engines, DuckDuckGo doesn’t store your personal info, follow you around with ads, or track you online. All this should add up to a safer, less creepy browsing experience.

DuckDuckGo gives you one more layer of privacy protection, but you’ll need to take a few extra precautions to ensure you’re properly covered.

DuckDuckGo Safety Precautions

  1. Pair with a private browser.
  2. Check the ‘Privacy Grade’ of every website you visit.
  3. Use a robust antivirus program.
  4. Connect to a reliable VPN, like CyberGhost.

What’s an Anonymous Search Engine?

By now, Google knows things about you before you do… If that makes you squirm, it might be time to switch to an anonymous search engine.

Unlike other search engines, which collect your information when you use them, an anonymous search engine doesn’t track you or your searches, or tie them to you in any way.

DuckDuckGo Home page intro graphic  

Other search engines like Google remember all your searches from time immemorial, even those you made in Incognito mode.

Here are some more myths about Incognito mode. Basically, Incognito or private mode doesn’t really work to hide your browsing history – your ISP, Google, websites, and the rest can still see what you’ve been up to. That’s why so many switch to anonymous search engines like DDG.

Google combines your search history with other personal identifiers like your age, gender, location, IP address, and device information to build a personal profile of you. It then uses this profile to serve you up personalized search results and targeted ads.

Google also plants trackers on millions of other websites that log your every move.

By comparison, each time you search with an anonymous search engine, it’s on a clean slate. The search engine doesn’t know who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve searched before.

DuckDuckGo Home Page Intro  

You get to browse the internet without personalized ads pestering you.

You do lose the convenience of auto-suggestion and checking back on your search history, but that’s a price you must pay for your privacy.

Anonymous search engines free you from oppressive “filter bubbles” or echo chambers. That’s where you only see what the search engine thinks you want to see. (Remember how politicians exploited filter bubbles to polarize the US electorate ahead of the 2016 elections?)

Use an anonymous search engine if you want less biased search results. DuckDuckGo is one of the most popular anonymous search engines available today. Let’s find out a little more about how it works.

What Does DuckDuckGo Do?

It’s really about what DuckDuckGo doesn’t do that makes the difference.

Private Search

iOS screengrab of DuckDuckGo welcome tour

Unlike Google, Yahoo, and Bing, DuckDuckGo doesn’t collect cookies, IP addresses, or user-agent data (like your device information or the web browser you use). It also doesn’t track your searches in a way that links them back to you.

No Search Leakage

DuckDuckGo uses search leakage to describe how search engines leak or reveal your search terms to sites you choose to visit. This is a threat to your privacy. DuckDuckGo doesn’t forward your search terms or personal data to websites you visit since it doesn’t collect them in the first place.

Tracker Blocking

iOS screengrab of DuckDuckGo welcome tour

DuckDuckGo does a whole lot more than just make your searches anonymous. It also blocks third-party trackers across the web from collecting your data.

           

Ad Blocking

iOS screengrab of DuckDuckGo welcome tour

You also get an ad blocker with the Privacy Essentials browser extension and mobile app. This blocks many of the banner ads and popups you typically see in your search results.

Do Not Track

DuckDuckGo warns sites not to collect, share, or sell your data through its Global Privacy Control (GPC) feature.

GPC is a browser or device setting signaling to websites your preference for privacy. While other browsers like Chrome also include a Do Not Track (DNT) feature, it’s not mandatory and most websites simply ignore this request.

DuckDuckGo’s DNT is more than just a suggestion. GPC allows DDG to take legal action in certain jurisdictions if websites don’t respect the request.

HTTPS Everywhere

DuckDuckGo uses HTTPS everywhere to force sites you visit to use an encrypted (HTTPS) connection wherever possible. This shields your data further from any peeping toms spying on the connection.

Privacy Grade

Available in both the mobile app and the browser extension, Privacy Grade lets you know when, and to what extent, a website tries to track your data. It also tells you how DuckDuckGo has blocked these trackers to improve your privacy.

Burn Bar

iOS screengrab of DuckDuckGo's Burn feature in action

DuckDuckGo’s mobile app’s Burn Bar lets you delete your browsing data and all cookies from your device when you close a session. It works similar to browsing in Incognito mode, but thanks to DuckDuckGo’s anonymous search function, you get far more anonymity. Your search history disappears entirely, not just off your device, but from the search engine and the wider web too.

Cybersecurity

DuckDuckGo blocks your browser from accessing any known malicious sites to spare you from certain cyberattacks with it’s Content Security Policy (CSP).

Privacy Controls

iOS screengrab of DuckDuckGo Mobile App settings

DuckDuckGo gives you full control of your privacy settings. You can turn on SafeSearch and toggle between strict and moderate, enable Global Privacy Control, and change your theme, region, and language.

               

Infinite Scroll

DuckDuckGo doesn’t present its search results on multiple pages. Instead, you get a single endless scroll. Who goes past the first page, anyway?

DuckDuckGo always adds more quirky features to set them apart too, like instant weather data, a rhyme generator, visible social media bios, loan calculators, great features for developers, and a lot more.

How to Use DuckDuckGo

To use DuckDuckGo, you could either:

  1. Open your browser preferences/settings and set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine.
  2. Download the browser extension (available on Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Opera, and Safari).
  3. Install the iOS or Android app.

You get more privacy features with the browser extension and the mobile app, but if you just want to give it a test drive, visit duckduckgo.com and search for something. Then compare the results with those from Google.

Before you do, though, you may want the answer to the all-important question, the reason you’re here in the first place: Is DuckDuckGo really safe?

 

Is DuckDuckGo Safe?

You’re not at any real risk with DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo doesn’t store your data, so you don’t need to worry about it being leaked, lost, or handed over to marketers or law enforcement agencies.

It’s not the final answer to your privacy woes, though.

Websites will still be able to track you and collect your information as DuckDuckGo’s tracker blocker only blocks well-known trackers. Your ISP will also still be able to see your search activity, as will the Wi-Fi owner, and anyone else watching your Wi-Fi connection, like cybercriminals.

You have to encrypt and secure your entire online connection. That way, you avoid all eavesdropping and you’re less vulnerable to cyberattacks. For that, you need a reliable VPN like CyberGhost.

DuckDuckGo won’t also stop viruses, and other malware from infecting your device. You still need to use a good antivirus software for that, and remember to always think before you click.

(Hint: Install CyberGhost’s Security Suite for all-in-one digital protection against almost all known cyber threats, all for a marginal monthly addition to your CyberGhost VPN subscription.)

After a rather lengthy introduction, here are the 5 things you should know about this anonymous search engine:

1. Making a Splash

DuckDuckGo doesn’t yet pose much of a threat to the almighty Google, or even runners up Yahoo and Bing, with a tiny 0.66% search market share.

That said, DDG is growing in popularity at an impressive rate. It was second only to Chrome as the most downloaded search engine on mobile devices in the US in 2021.

More profit, resources, and ultimately a serious contender pushing the big guys to evolve or lose out comes with more fans.

2. You’ll Still See Ads

DuckDuckGo’s focus may be privacy, but it’s not a charity.

DuckDuckGo makes money through advertising and affiliate revenue.

DDG search results with ads  

If you’ve used DuckDuckGo before, you may have noticed ads to the right of your search results. Unlike Google, those ads are not personalized (based on your search history, personal information, purchase history, etc.), because your data isn’t tracked.

Instead, DuckDuckGo’s business model relies on serving contextual ads, (based on your search results, not on your personal data). If you search for a laptop, you’ll see ads for laptops, but these ads won’t follow you around next time you use the search engine.

DuckDuckGo also earns a commission whenever you buy a product from one of its partners after being served an ad or searching for it on DuckDuckGo.

FourWeekMBA's infographic of how DuckDuckGo makes money  

3. Big on !Bangs

DDG's  

DuckDuckGo’s !bangs are shortcut commands that take you directly to search results on other sites.

Want to look up Edward Snowden on Wikipedia? Type “!w Snowden” and go straight to the relevant Wikipedia results. Shopping for a laptop on Amazon? Type “!a laptop” and get instant results on Amazon.

Problem is, because you go straight to these websites, you lose any protection you had within DuckDuckGo’s “privacy zone”.

4. Endorsed by Tor

You double your shield when you use DDG together with the Tor browser.

Tor anonymizes all your browsing traffic more thoroughly, and sends it through a series of random, encrypted servers before it gets to its destination.

This makes it nearly impossible for anyone to track your internet activity.

Tor browser home page  

It’s easy to use the search engine with added Tor protection. Simply browse with Tor and search with DuckDuckGo.

You don’t even have to tweak any settings as DuckDuckGo is the default search engine on the Tor browser.

5. Not as Private as Promised

Despite being a privacy pioneer, DuckDuckGo does raise some niggling privacy concerns.

US-Based

For one thing, DuckDuckGo is based in the US, which raises some alarms. US law enforcement can force DDG to hand over their logs. DuckDuckGo says it’s not obligated to collect any logs in the first place, so it has nothing to hand over.

Ad-Driven

You may object to DuckDuckGo’s advertising and affiliate-marketing business model, arguing it still profits off you. DuckDuckGo says it doesn’t sell your personal user data to marketers, and can turn a dime without tracking you.

Displays Search Terms in URL

DuckDuckGo displays search terms in the URL. Other private search engines like StartPage and Search Encrypt don’t do that. Instead, they encrypt all URLs so no one can make sense of them, and if you try to go to the links in your history, you get returned to the search engine’s homepage.

Search Terms End Up in Browser History

When you search on DuckDuckGo, your search terms show up in the address bar of your browser. That’s why they also end up in your browser history.

Now, you could bin your history, or use an Incognito window or private browser, but that adds an extra step few may think of.

If DuckDuckGo puts your privacy first, why make it easy for anyone with access to your computer (or your network) to check up on your search terms? Sure, this gives you the convenience to revisit sites you’ve visited recently and might help DDG suggest fixes for misspelled words, but it’s still a privacy oversight in my books.

Privacy-Bursting !Bangs

Some people find the !bangs feature misleading. You might think !bangs lets you search other websites with DDG’s privacy protection, but no.

If you use !bangs to search Google, it’s the same as going straight to Google and searching from there. Google still tracks your searches and your data. The same applies to any other website you access through !bangs.

Location Found

What if you want to find a fish ’n chips shop nearby? DuckDuckGo gives you the option to share your approximate location to get more localized results. It can do this without recording your actual IP or location or having to expose any personally identifiable information to third parties.

All the points above may raise some eyebrows, but weighed in the balance, DDG offers a lot more privacy pros than cons, as the table below illustrates. Become a Ghostie and patch up any minor privacy gaps.

DuckDuckGo’s Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
✅Prioritizes your privacy 🗙Not as convenient as Google
✅No personalized, targeted ads 🗙No personalization (can = less relevant results)
✅No search leakage–Your personal information isn’t revealed to third parties 🗙Fewer integrated services like Google Maps. Gmail, etc
✅No filter bubble–everyone gets the same results 🗙Based in the US–can be compelled to hand over data to law enforcement agencies. DuckDuckGo says it has nothing to handover to get around this
✅Fun features like a rhyme generator, weather data, extra features for developers, visible social media bios, loan calculators, etc. 🗙You’ll still see ads next to your searches, though these won’t be personalized
✅Simple, easy-to-use interface 🗙Privacy concerns around !bangs and the use of search terms in urls
✅Growing in popularity and improving every day

Now that we’ve looked at DuckDuckGo in some detail, let’s see how it compares to the king of search engines, Google.

DuckDuckGo or Google?

What matters more to you, privacy or convenience? DuckDuckGo doesn’t come close to Google’s power and convenience, but if privacy is your main concern, then Duck’s got your back.

DuckDuckGo Google
Enhanced privacy Personalized content
No targeted ads Integration across Google services (Gmail, Maps, etc)
No filter bubble or echo chamber effect Records search history
Clean and lightweight user interface More complete, up-to-date convenient results

Here’s a detailed comparison of the privacy offered by the various mainstream and anonymous search engines. Spoiler: Google is by far the worst, but surprisingly DDG isn’t the best.

How to Use DuckDuckGo Safely

As we’ve seen, DuckDuckGo goes a long way to defend your right to privacy online, but it has its shortcomings. Fortunately, it’s not the only weapon in your arsenal. Ramp up your privacy and security with these 5 measures.

1. Browse With Brave or CyberGhost Private Browser

Popular browsers like Chrome or Edge save your search history and share it with third-parties, even in Incognito mode. Even though DDG bins your search history, your browser doesn’t.

That is, unless you use a private browser like Brave or CyberGhost Private Browser. Both are free, privacy-focused browsers that block most ads and trackers.

This increases your privacy and security, and your browsing speed too if you get rid of all those data-guzzling ads and trackers.

For maximum privacy, select DuckDuckGo as your default search engine.

Change search engine settings in Brave Browser  

That way, you get DuckDuckGo’s search privacy plus your entire browsing history vanishes the moment you close the browser.

2. Tor + DuckDuckGo = Total Privacy

For the privacy paranoid, Tor with DuckDuckGo is as locked up as it gets.

Tor (The Onion Router) routes your browsing data through multiple encrypted servers. This makes it impossible for anyone to track your internet use.

Simply browse with the Tor browser to use the 2 together. If you type search terms into the address bar on Tor, it’ll use DuckDuckGo to do the search by default.

3. Keep an Eye On ‘Privacy Grade’

DuckDuckGo Privacy Grade icon in mobile browser  

Be sure to check the Privacy Grade of any website you visit through DuckDuckGo.

Look out for a single icon/letter in the browser’s main toolbar. The icon displays a privacy rating for any site you visit from “A” to “F,” with “A” being the safest. DDG blocks all trackers to improve the grade, but it’s up to you to flee if the final grade is still a fail.

4. Update Your Antivirus Program

Even with your privacy set to the max, you’re still vulnerable to viruses and malware. Protect yourself with a decent antivirus program and always check it’s up to date.

The CyberGhost Security Suite for Windows comes with a powerful antivirus. Download the Security Suite and get full protection against some of the most advanced cyber threats, all for just $1.25 per month on top of your VPN subscription.

5. Use a Reliable VPN

DuckDuckGo protects your privacy while you search, but it offers little defense against other threats on the Internet, like government surveillance and social media trackers.

DuckDuckGo doesn’t encrypt all your traffic, which means any prying eyes can still see your activity and IP address. This is especially true on public Wi-Fi, where you expose yourself to cybercriminals lurking on the network.

You need a VPN (virtual private network) to encrypt your entire traffic with AES 256-bit encryption and hide your IP address from all snoopers.

 

A good VPN like CyberGhost masks your IP address and creates an encrypted connection between your device and the public internet. This prevents anyone from tracking your data or linking it back to you, even after you leave DuckDuckGo’s “privacy zone”.

A trustworthy VPN also makes sure you’re safe if law enforcement comes looking for your data. Just like DuckDuckGo, here at CyberGhost we don’t keep any logs, so we have nothing to hand over.

Use DuckDuckGo and CyberGhost VPN together for iron-clad data protection. Join the Ghostie squad today for only $2.15 a month on our 3-year plan, and get 3 months for free!

Why Choose CyberGhost VPN

User-Friendly

Like DDG, CyberGhost VPN is easy to use with an attractive, intuitive interface and many great features. Simply connect in a click to add another security layer to your surfing experience.

We’ll also change your IP location, so you can access content blocked in your region – like DuckDuckGo in China.

Advanced Encryption

Unlike DuckDuckGo, CyberGhost VPN wraps your entire connection, not just your browsing activity, in bank-grade AES-256 encryption. This shields your digital identity from all surveillance.

Ad-Free Internet

Activate CyberGhost VPN’s ad-blocker in your settings to filter out most of those annoying ads, even those DuckDuckGo serves up.

CyberGhost VPN ad-blocker feature

Zero Logs

Headquartered in privacy-friendly Romania, outside any Eyes alliance, we’re not obligated to log your data. Our strict No-Logs policy means we don’t know what you’re up to on our servers, and neither does anyone else.

Cover Every Device

iPhone, Android, Windows, or macOS devices, we have VPN apps for them all. Want to use the VPN on multiple devices? No problem! A single CyberGhost subscription lets you connect up to 7 devices simultaneously, ensuring maximum privacy everywhere.

Super-Fast VPN

A slow VPN isn’t worth the wait. We’ve built our ultra-fast servers to keep up with you. Pages load in a flash for a blitz-speed browsing. If you’re switching between twenty open tabs, streaming, torrenting, or gaming, you’ll enjoy unlimited bandwidth and no lag.

Last Words

As they say, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it probably is a duck. DuckDuckGo walks the talk enough to suggest you’re safer over on the duck side.

At least you stay out of range of Google, Bing, and the rest, who don’t give a duck’s butt about your privacy.

That said, DuckDuckGo does have a way to go before it poses a real challenge to the search giants. It’s also not the final solution to your privacy concerns. You need to pair it with a private browser and encrypt your entire connection with a reliable VPN like CyberGhost to really fly below the radar.

Install CyberGhost VPN and discover the true meaning of privacy, simplified.

FAQs

Does DuckDuckGo store your search history?

No, DuckDuckGo doesn’t save your search history, but your browser does. Anyone with access to your computer can view your searches in your browsing history.

You need to switch to Incognito mode to prevent your browser from saving your search history. That, or use a private browser like the CyberGhost Private Browser.

This way, you dump your search history every time you close a session and no one can snoop around your history later.

How does DuckDuckGo make money?

DuckDuckGo generates revenue in 2 ways:

  1. Advertising: It shows you an ad based on what you searched for.
  2. Affiliate revenue: When you buy something from Amazon or eBay after arriving there through DuckDuckGo’s search results or advertising, the company receives a small commission.

If ads annoy you, use CyberGhost VPN with the content block feature turned on to block most of them. (You’ll find the content blocker feature under Privacy Settings).

Can you browse the dark web with DuckDuckGo?

Yes, you can browse the dark web with DuckDuckGo because unlike most search engines, it also brings up the more popular dark web or onion links.

To stay safe on your travels through the dark web, go 100% anonymous with CyberGhost VPN. That way, not even your ISP can see where you’re heading or where you’ve been.

Is DuckDuckGo owned by Google?

Nope, founder Gabriel Weinberg still owns DuckDuckGo. Google may be tempted to purchase DuckDuckGo to try to take out the competition, but so far, no deal.

Need more tips on how to escape Google’s ever-widening net? Reach out to our friendly customer support team. They’re available 24/7 via email or live chat.

Should you use a VPN with DuckDuckGo?

It’s a good idea, yes. A VPN does more than a private search engine or a private browser combined to keep you completely anonymous with system-wide, military-grade encryption.

You can enjoy protection on up to 7 devices simultaneously with a good VPN like CyberGhost risk-free with our 45-day money-back guarantee.

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Regarding ads in DDG search results: Ads are completely optional in DuckDuckGo. You can just turn them off in the settings without any restrictions.

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