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DuckDuckGo and Its Crusade Against the Filter Bubble

Image representing Duck Duck Go as depicted in...

Image via CrunchBase

Pretty much every website you go to tries to provide you with a customizable experience. Amazon suggests other items you may be interested in – based somewhat on what others buy but also on what you’ve bought, what sites you’ve visited, any cookies your browser may have, etc.

Facebook takes into consideration which links you click on and which posts you like, and then displays more updates from those friends and fewer updates from other friends. This may be good or bad, depending on whether you want to stay in touch with everyone or you want to just see what you care about most. (Compare this to Twitter, which may suggest users, but leaves it up to you to manage your actual feed.)

Your personal Google search results are going to be different than anyone else’s, especially if you’re signed into your Google account. Your search results aren’t just based on generic algorithms, but also on your past search history, sites you frequent, etc. Even if you’re not signed into your account, you clear your history, and delete your cookies, Google will still take your IP address and any other details they can into your search results.

This can be beneficial; since I live in Utah, if I search for restaurants I’m most likely interested in restaurants near me. Having customized results can save a lot of time and hassle. It can make for a more targeted online experience tailored to your specific needs. However, there are some people who feel this infringes on their privacy and instead want search results that aren’t based on their personal information.

There’s plenty of discussion already about the morality and ethics of it all – a discussion which I have no desire to take part in. There are plenty of ways for individuals to protect themselves and I place the responsibility on the user not put anything online they don’t want online.

There are plenty of people who want a customized online experience, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There may even be people who only want their information from specific sources – perhaps news sources they admire and agree with. While I personally think it’s better to get input from a wealth of different sources – instead of making oneself susceptible to confirmation bias – it’s certainly not a search engine’s responsibility to be fair and balanced. Search engines and social networking sites and other tools try to provide the information that is most relevant, and that mission has somewhat evolved over time to more specifically provide what’s relevant to you.

All of this buildup about customization and privacy leads me to DuckDuckGo.com, a search engine dedicated to privacy and working to burst the filter bubble. DuckDuckGo doesn’t store IP addresses, doesn’t log user information, and only uses cookies when necessary. Their goal is to provide an experience that is free of the filter bubble.

But they’re not just presenting themselves as an alternative; while not explicitly attacking other search engines’ practices, they don’t hide their discontent. (See: DontBubble.us)

All of that being said, I see two major practical benefits to DuckDuckGo over search engines like Google and Bing (again, ethical discussions of privacy aside):

  1. If I’m doing keyword or SEO research, I can get another perspective on what people are seeing and a result uncluttered by my own search history, IP address, or cookies. I’ll know that anyone else who is searching for those same keywords will be seeing the same results – something you can’t really get with other search engines.
  2. The default is anonymity, so I’m less susceptible to confirmation bias. With customized search, I run the risk of the filter bubble keeping me from what I’m really looking for. Now, this doesn’t guarantee DuckDuckGo will have what I’m looking for, but it does give me an additional perspective.

All of this being said, I see myself using DuckDuckGo but not necessarily for everything. DuckDuckGo has a convenient zero-click box – similar to the results you would get from WolframAlpha – with basic facts about the topic and links to resource sites like Wikipedia. It also has a settings page where you can customize all sorts of features, as opposed to other search engines which do the customizing for you.

But I’m still going to use Google or Bing when I’m searching for stuff to buy or movies to watch or places to eat. Google and I have a good relationship, we know each other pretty well, and it’s probably going to be able to tell me what I really want to have for dinner tonight.

 

Scott Spjut is a writer who has been featured on various sites including SearchEnginePeople.com and dailySEOtip.com. Scott currently works with Professional Marketing International helping people change their lives.

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