DuckDuckGo Swimming Pretty Following Privacy Revelations

February 10, 2014

A fellow online water-fowl has seen a huge jump in usage since last year’s revelations about NSA activity. At least someone is benefiting from the whole kerfuffle. The Independent reports, “DuckDuckGo Hits 1Bn Annual Searches: Non-Tracking Search Engine Boosted by Privacy Fears.” The emphasis the search service has always placed on anonymity almost seems presentient now. Did they know it was just a matter of time?

Writer James Vincent tells us that last year was, by far, DuckDuckGo‘s biggest year to date with over a billion searches performed. He shares a chart that tracks Ducky usage from July 2010 to January of this year. The leap from July ’13 to present is impressive; usage more than doubled in the months following Snowden’s famous efforts. The folks at the site are seizing the limelight, and say that this year they plan to incorporate user feedback into the site’s functionality. That’s a good thing; frankly, I only use the site when researching sensitive information, like health or financial issues. I find that, usually, Google and Bing are more likely to give me the info I’m looking for. Maybe it’s just me.

I think it is important to recognize that privacy is not the only reason to use an anonymous search service. The other reason (and the one I’m more concerned about) is the fight against the rapidly-multiplying, conformation-bias-promoting echo chambers that have infected our society’s discourse in recent years. The article explains:

“[DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel] Weinberg notes that when a search engine tracks users’ queries, the information not only created profiles to sell to advertisers but also shapes results to fit their own natural bias. This effect is known as the ‘filter bubble’. For example, if a user searches for new stories regarding recent events they might consistently click on reports from sites with a particular political bias. A search engine would take note that these sites are more popular and stop offering other results. ‘That is being trapped in a filter bubble and seeing only points of view that one agrees with, and less and less opposing viewpoints,’ said Weinberg.”

Vincent observes that the search site has a long, long way to go before it is a direct threat to Google, which processes over a billion searches per day. Still, the growing concern over privacy should not be taken lightly.

Cynthia Murrell, February 10, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Users Seek Private Search Options After NSA Revelations

November 20, 2013

This is certainly no surprise. CSO reveals, “People Flock to Anonymizing Services After NSA Snooping Reports.” Writer Grant Gross highlights several anonymous search services that have seen usage soar since certain NSA practices have come to light. DuckDuckGo is on the list, as well as Tor and mobile solution Silent Circle. The brand new Disconnect Search saw over 400,000 searches within four days of its launch. Clearly, many people are beginning to cover their virtual tracks. But is it pointless, after all? The article points out:

Disconnect Search’s FAQ includes information about possible government searches. ‘The reality is the U.S. government may force us to begin logging the search queries of a particular user or group of users,’ the FAQ said. ‘If served with a court order that includes a non-disclosure provision, we may not be able to tell our users about this change for some period of time, possibly forever. And the U.S. government may also have other methods of monitoring user searches which Disconnect Search cannot prevent.’”

Though we now know several prominent firms quietly complied with NSA demands to fork over their records, at least one search service has elected to fold rather than cave. Lavabit made the tough choice to shut down their decade-old organization rather than comply with. . . something. Owner Ladar Levison’s explanation, which is all that is left of the site, laments that he can’t tell us exactly what was demanded of him, but his frustration and ire are apparent in the strongly worded note. He writes:

“I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise.”

So, there’s that. Not exactly encouraging for fans of privacy. Lavison seems to hold at least a sliver of hope for a favorable verdict as Lavabit takes their fight to court. Is even that too optimistic?

Cynthia Murrell, November 20, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

LucidWorks and Search: Spying an Issue

November 3, 2013

If you are tracking the evolution of open source enterprise search vendors, you may want to read “Enterprise Search Technology: Leading the Battle against Internal Threats without Sacrificing Employee Privacy.” In my years of covering the intersection of enterprise search, I marvel at a fresh conflation. In my talk next week at the search conference in Washington, DC, I may ask the audience about this issue. Until then, consider the LucidWorks’ viewpoint. Fascinating. Fascinating indeed. search continues to move in new and surprising directions. For case studies of vendors who have pioneered new directions in search, check out the case studies at

Stephen E Arnold, November 3, 2013

Disconnect for Privacy Online

October 22, 2013

Interesting. If this works as advertised, we may no longer need to keep track of which search engines track users and which don’t: Disconnect Search promises to decouple your information from all of your searches. This development is a new addition to the Disconnect site, which already offered a browser extension to protect privacy while surfing the web. The video on the homepage, just over a minute long, describes their services. Their About page tells us:

Why Disconnect

Your personal info should be your own. But today thousands of companies invisibly collect your data on the Internet, including the pages you go to and the searches you do. Often, this personal data is packaged and sold without your permission.

What we believe

Understanding online data collection and controlling access to your personal info should be easy. You should be free to move about the Internet without anyone looking over your shoulder and without fear that your online activity might be analyzed, your searches scrutinzed, or your security compromised.

You can use Disconnect by going through their site, or you can install their tool in your address bar. They also offer a Wi-Fi encryptor to protect data shared with other sites, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Twitter, and Google‘s ecosystem. Another tool is called Disconnect Kids, though its features seem like they would appeal to adults as well. This tool specifically prevents data about activities performed on iPhones and iPads from leaving those devices.

Check out the site for more details on how Disconnect works. The company was founded in 2011, and is headquartered in Palo Alto, California. They say their top priority is to facilitate change in the way personal information is handled online. Disconnect proudly sports their B Corp certification, and functions on contributions.

Cynthia Murrell, October 22, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

DuckDuckGo Not Entirely Free Of Big Brother

August 18, 2013

Big Brother Google tracks your data and shares it with the National Security Agency (NSA). As citizens we value our privacy and many of those concerned have switched over to DuckDuckGo to keep their browsing data a secret. That does not mean, however, that the NSA is not still tracking you. Read over the Ether Rag’s blog post: “DuckDuckGo: Illusion Of Privacy” for how the alternate search engine is required to comply with certain laws.

Under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), DuckDuckGo can be forced to release your Internet history. Also DuckDuckGo only protects its users from third party, not NSA spy drones. Can they prevent the NSA? Yahoo tried and lost their case.

The NSA will try to stop what it does not like and will do what it needs to do according to the agency’s purpose.

“This is not an indictment of DuckDuckGo per se.  Except in as far as they are taking advantage of the hysteria to their own ends.  Every provider needs to be upfront with saying, ‘If it is indeed true that the NSA is monitoring our ingress/egress traffic, we can make no guarantee of privacy regardless of encryption or other efforts on our part.’ In the larger picture, this is the crux of the problem not just for DuckDuckGo, but the internet as a whole.  Until and unless agencies like the NSA are forbidden from conducting dragnet collection and analysis of data, there can be no privacy.  Privacy is merely an illusion at this point.”

Can anybody else say great sarcastically? What is there do to at this point? Use DuckDuckGo and do not do anything to incite the NSA’s wraith.

Whitney Grace, August 18, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Beyond Search

DuckDuckGo Offered as Private Alternative to Google

July 12, 2013

The article titled “Search Engine Privacy; DuckDuckGo Does Not Track Its Users” on Slate is an interview with DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg. This search engine was created as an alternative to Google with the benefit that while Google stores the all of the data you give it, DuckDuckGo does not. Due to the leaks about NSA’s widening monitoring practices, DuckDuckGo’s traffic exploded, rising from 2 million queries before the story broke to over 3 million. The article explains who this search engine is aimed at,

“Different people prefer different experiences and user interfaces. Google is trying to appeal to the average user—we are trying to carve out a niche for the serious person who knows what they’re doing and wants their privacy protected and a great result. We have servers around the world, and we can see how much traffic is coming in from which areas, so we know our users are about 50 percent United States, 50 percent international. “

Painting Google as Walmart and DuckDuckGo as a boutique search engine seems to be a working strategy for Weinberg. His emphasis on privacy appeals to a great number of individuals. Weinberg mentioned just a few examples of common searches, medial and travel related, that no one wants made public. Of course the two search engines are not impossible to use together- perhaps reserving DuckDuckGo for searches that are potentially embarrassing or personal.

Chelsea Kerwin, July 12, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Online Privacy Issues Rile Tech Industry

July 10, 2013

The recent revelations about PRISM include the little detail that the biggest tech companies seem to have cooperated with the federal online surveillance program, though the extent of their complicity has yet to be revealed. The New York Times reports, “Data-Driven Tech Industry Is Shaken by Online Privacy Fears.” Writer David Streitfeld recalls that the threat of government meddling has hung over the Internet since early on; he writes:

“The technology world has always strived to keep Washington at a certain arm’s length. Regulation would snuff out innovation, the entrepreneurs regularly cried. Bureaucrats should keep their hands off things they do not understand, which is just about everything we do out here.”

We now see how that worked out; perhaps the shift was inevitable. Some of us have always gone by the idea that anything we put online might, by accident or design, be seen by anyone at any time. What some once deemed paranoid has been revealed as prudent. For its part, Silicon Valley is churning over the whole controversy, with many tech professionals working furiously to map the correct way forward. On the other hand, the article notes:

“In the meantime, some tech leaders have another idea: lie low. Gordon Eubanks, a valley entrepreneur for 30 years, can see both sides of the argument over privacy and security. Until it is resolved, he said, ‘I’ve just become really careful about what I put out there. I never put online anything about where I live, my family, my pets. I’m even careful about what I “like.”‘”

Eubanks is wise. Listen to the insider, folks, and be careful out there.

Cynthia Murrell, July 10, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

IMs from 19 Year Old Mark Zuckerberg Reveal Cavalier Attitude Toward Privacy

July 4, 2013

The article on Business Insider titled Well, These New Zuckerberg IMs Won’t Help Facebook’s Privacy Problems addresses an exchange Zuckerberg had in college recently after launching  Facebook. In sum, he offers his friend information on anyone at Harvard, and when asked how he got access to all of that information, he stated that people just posted it, because they trust him, followed by an expletive aimed at all the people dumb enough to trust him, which now includes over a billion people. The article explains,

“Since Facebook launched, the company has faced one privacy flap after another, usually following changes to the privacy policy or new product releases.  To its credit, the company has often modified its products based on such feedback.  As the pioneer in a huge new market, Facebook will take heat for everything it does.  It has also now grown into a $22 billion company run by adults who know that their future depends on Facebook users trusting the site’s privacy policy.”

Anyone who watched The Social Network might not be surprised to learn that young Mark Zuckerberg comes across as a bit of a jerk who happens to wield a tremendous amount of power. Facebook’s privacy policy has changed many times, and Zuckerberg’s attitude still seems to be that the dummies willing to trust him deserve what happens to them.

Chelsea Kerwin, July 04, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext.

Searching Mobile Phones

February 27, 2013

Short honk: I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I want to document the article “New Document Sheds Light on Government’s Ability to Search iPhones.” If you have an interest in alleged government methods, check out the write up. The links were valid when I checked, but going forward, who knows?

Stephen E Arnold, February 27, 2013

Facebook Changes Privacy Policy Again

January 30, 2013

In light of the Facebook’s aim to improve its search and make more money, the social network Web site changed its privacy policy yet again. Quartz has more info on the change in the article, “Ahead Of Graph Search Launch, Facebook Removed The Ability To Opt Out Of Search Results.” Facebook changed the privacy policy due to a new search tool called Graph Search that allows users to search their networks for queries about restaurants, friends’ locations, and likes. It is a big step up for Facebook as its search functions have been extremely limited. Facebook hopes that advertising and use more of its user data.

Users cannot opt out fully from search results, but they can still control who sees their content. The Federal Trade Commission has been keeping tabs on Facebook and its privacy policy and has issued a heavy fine if the social network refuses to follow rules:

“The FTC settlement mandates that Facebook submit to annual privacy audits for 20 years and pay $16,000 per day for any violations. It also requires Facebook to “obtain the user’s affirmative express consent” when adding a feature that “materially exceeds the restrictions imposed by a user’s privacy setting.” The changes to Facebook’s privacy policy in December may have given Facebook clearance to debut Graph Search, although for now, at least, the company is also asking users to sign up for the feature.”

Facebook makes it hard to keep your information private, so always remember to watch what you post. It will come up in search when you least expect it.

Whitney Grace, January 30, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Beyond Search

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