I recently wrote about a relative newcomer to the general search engine scene called DuckDuckGo. Unlike most search engines, DuckDuckGo is completely anonymous. The entire experience is encrypted through SSL, and the company doesn’t store any of your search queries on their servers. Reading about this really piqued my interest, and I decided to contact Gabriel Weinberg – one of the head honchos at DDG – for an interview.
In the interview we talk about the company, Gabriel’s role, and most importantly we talk about maintaining privacy online.
Unfinished Man: Gabriel, please tell our readers a bit about yourself and what you do at DuckDuckGo.
Gabriel Weinberg: Hi! I’ve been doing Internet startups since college, for a bit over ten years. I’ve been doing DuckDuckGo for about the last four years. It is a general Internet search engine. For the first few years of DDG, I did everything on it by myself. Now I still do a lot of things :). Day-to-day that’s programming, managing, marketing, etc.
UM: According to your personal website, you do quite a bit of angel investing. What made you decide to get involved in DuckDuckGo?
Gabriel: I do some. I love startups and wanted to be involved on the investor side as well. As for DuckDuckGo, I didn’t come at it with some grand plan or design. I was doing a bunch of side projects that were tangentially related and slowly it evolved into this search engine concept. I thought about how the search landscape might change in the next decade and thought I had some good ideas of how to move with that evolution. But first and foremost, I got into just for fun.
UM: What challenges did you and the DDG team face getting the project running and off the ground?
Gabriel: There are a lot of edge cases in search engines. And on top of that, it is hard to differentiate yourself. If you’re too different, people are like what ???? But if you’re too similar people are like why ???? I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to work on to walk that fine line.
UM: Do you think privacy on the internet is important to everyone, or simply useful to some people? Many would argue that if you have nothing to hide, then why try to remain anonymous online?
Gabriel: I don’t think anyone wants to be tracked if they don’t need to be. Why would you? Privacy is about choice and control. If I want to share my data for some obvious benefit, then people can make that choice. But too often, there is no choice, and thus no control.
UM: Do you have any recommendations for people trying to maintain their privacy online? Any must have plugins for example?
Gabriel: Absolutely. At the bottom of http://donttrack.us/ there is a good list.
UM: Do you and the DDG team have any major updates in the works that you can talk about?
Gabriel: We are working on all the big holes in the service: maps, local, autocomplete, etc.
UM: The DDG shtick seems to be one of transparency and anonymity, but how do we know that our information isn’t being stored?
UM: Google generates substantial amounts of revenue through advertising. What do you guys do to bring in funds? I’ve noticed a few Amazon affiliate links on search results, but nothing else in the way of advertising.
Gabriel: We have some contextual advertising (also currently mainly advertising) on the right column. You can turn this off in the settings though, and you may not see it if you have adblock on. That said, we’re focused on staying lean so we don’t have to gouge our users with ads, though we of course do have some.
UM: Aside from anonymity, what’s special about DDG?
Gabriel: We try to focus the product on way more instant answers and way less spam/clutter. To that end, we have tons of goodies and are adding more all the time: http://duckduckgo.com/goodies.html and http://duckduckgo.com/tech.html. In fact, we are now working towards making DDG pluggable so that software developers can help contribute modules: https://github.com/duckduckgo/duckduckgo/wiki
UM: Anything else our readers show known about DuckDuckGo or privacy in general?
Gabriel: Yes, besides getting tracked there is a concept of the filter bubble, which we have attempted to explain here: http://dontbubble.us/
I hope everyone enjoyed the interview, and I would like to send a big thank you to Gabriel for taking the time to chat with me. I’m looking forward to seeing what Gabriel and his team come up with next.