How DuckDuckGo makes money selling research, not privacy


Comment: DuckDuckGo is small by Google standards, but the company proves that it is entirely possible to make a lot of money with just a little more privacy.

Image: GettyImages / gremlin

I can’t get away from the DuckDuckGo billboards. All along I-15 in Utah, DuckDuckGo’s billboards proclaim peace, love, and privacy (here is an example of a DuckDuckGo billboard). Despite a negligible market share of browsers, DuckDuckGo has been profitable since 2014 and generated over $ 100 million in revenue last year. This despite the attachment of StatCounter DuckDuckGo mobile market share (its most powerful platform) to 0.04% in June 2021.

Turns out, you don’t need to have hegemonic market share to live comfortably in search engines. You also don’t have to sell user privacy. Who knew?

SEE: Report: SMEs are not prepared to tackle data privacy (TechRepublic Premium)

DuckDuckGo: Selling Research, Not Identity

Even though we may resist the idea of ​​being tracked online, we are often told that there is a need to give us personalized results. DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg disagrees:

It’s actually a big myth that search engines have to track your personal search history to make money or provide quality search results. Almost all the money search engines (including Google) make is based on the keywords you type in, without knowing anything about you, including your search history or the seemingly endless amounts of additional data points that you enter. ‘they collected on registered and unregistered users alike. In fact, Search Network advertisers buy Search Network ads by bidding on keywords, not people … This keyword-based advertising is our primary business model.

Plus, Weinberg argues, no one needs the sheer volume of data tracked online to deliver a great customer experience or make money. “The point is, these companies would still be hugely profitable if, for example, they let go of all those trackers hidden on the web and limit the amount of data they keep to what is most needed.”

SEE: How to Manage Passwords: Best Practices and Security Tips (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In support of this claim, the financial success of DuckDuckGo. No, it’s not $ 147 billion, which is what Google generated in advertising revenue last year. But DuckDuckGo raked in its $ 100 million with significantly less market share. Figure A shows StatCounter data for mobile, which is DuckDuckGo’s strongest market. Its market share on the desktop is still negligible.

Figure A


StatCounter fixed DuckDuckGo’s mobile market share at 0.04% in June 2021.

Image: StatCounter

Google is, of course, the star here. But it’s impressive that DuckDuckGo has a bigger market share than Bing, although it doesn’t have the advantage of a big company behind it. And if we limit ourselves to the US market share in mobile, DuckDuckGo is right behind Google (although far behind). DuckDuckGo’s search traffic has jumped 55% in the past year, with a 70 to 100 million estimated users.

Perhaps this is why the company has attracted a large number of individual investors: Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus and then of Mozilla, and Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp. And that’s why I just switched my default search engine on Chrome (laptop and iPhone) to DuckDuckGo to see if I give up on anything by reclaiming some of my privacy. This might be something you will want to consider as well.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

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