Anonymous search engine booms following PRISM scandal

It seems that most users don’t like people finding out what they are up to when they visit the internet.

Just days after Whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that through a system known as PRISM the US National Surveillance Agency had direct access to the private information of millions of internet users, internet users have become more wary of their privacy and turned to anonymous search engines.

One such site that seems to be reaping from Google’s woes is private search engine DuckDuckGo — which launched in 2008.

The site, which promises not to send users’ searches to other sites or store any personal information, allows users to search the internet without their information being logged.

Although not truly anonymous, DuckDuckGo aggressively filters spam site like content farms (sites designed to make money from advertising revenue), doesn’t track users’ searches,  and doesn’t create a “filter bubble” for each individual (that is, it doesn’t alter search results to reflect what a user might prefer to see).

According to its public traffic page, the website usually sees an average of roughly 1.75 million queries by individuals every day, or around 54 million per month (including bot searches). But after the NSA scandal broke, the search engine’s query load increased sharply — finally breaking the 3 million barrier this week and peaking at 3.1 million yesterday. The company is now on target to have an average of 2.2 million queries per day for the month of June, nearly a million more queries per day on average than the same month last year.

Admittedly, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to Google’s 20 billion monthly queries, or Microsoft’s 3.5bn, or even Yahoo’s 2.4bn,  but DuckDuckGo’s increase in traffic is interesting following the NSA news and the company’s sensitivity to privacy.

According to DuckDuckGo’s policy, the company does not keep “search leakage” — bits of private information that slip out with every query that tie the terms to an IP address —  and redirects private information that a website would normally get if a user clicked there directly from search.

Direct searches on the website were fluctuating around 1.6 million a day for the last few months, but have risen steadily since the scandal broke two weeks ago.

Yesterday just over 3 million searches were recorded, the most ever on the website.

generated just under 3.1m direct queries on Monday (17 June), compared to its daily average of 1.8m direct queries in the month of May.

What the real difference between the likes of Google and DuckDuckGo’s is unclear. Although the latter’s privacy policy clearly states that “like anyone else, we will comply with court ordered legal requests” – these requests are how information was obtained from Google.

DuckDuckGo does however, follow this up by saying “[but] in our case, we don’t expect any, because there is nothing useful to give them since we don’t collect any personal information.”

“By not storing any useful information, DuckDuckGo simply isn’t useful to these surveillance programs,” chief executive Gabriel Weinberg told Silicon Angle last week. “We literally do not store personally identifiable user data, so if the NSA were to get a hold of all our data, it would not be useful to them since it is all truly anonymous.”

DuckDuckGo isn’t going to knock the big search-engine guns off their perches in the immediate future, but its slogan: Google tracks you. We don’t – as famously emblazoned on a San Francisco billboard ad – appears to be striking a chord with more internet users.

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