At DuckDuckGo, we’ve been profitable since 2014 without saving or sharing your search or browsing history when you view our search results or navigate to other websites. We’re proud to have a profitable business model that’s not dependent on exploiting your personal information. I’m happy to tell you about how we make this work.
Though first, if you’re not familiar with DuckDuckGo, we are an Internet privacy company that helps you to more seamlessly take control of your personal information online. Our supercharged app comes with multiple types of privacy protection built-in (private search engine, tracker blocking, email protection, and more) to help protect you from most third-party trackers from Google, Facebook, and other companies.
How we make money
It's actually a big myth that search engines need to track you to make money or deliver quality results. We make money from private ads and affiliate partnerships on our search engine. On most other search engines, you are targeted with ads based on creepy profiles made up of your personal information, such as search, browsing, and purchase history. Since we don’t track our users we don’t have any such histories. So, search ads on DuckDuckGo are just based on the search results page you're currently viewing instead of being based on you as a person. For example, if you search for cars, we’ll show you ads about cars. It’s that simple.
Search advertising on DuckDuckGo is clearly labeled and takes the form of sponsored links that appear adjacent to search results. Viewing ads is privacy protected by DuckDuckGo and search ad clicks are managed by Microsoft's ad network, though even in that case, “Microsoft Advertising does not associate your ad-click behavior with a user profile. It also does not store or share that information other than for accounting purposes.”
We are profitable based on these non-profiling search ads alone, though we have always been on the lookout for other ways to reduce our dependence on advertising that are similarly anonymous. The only other way we’ve found so far, which currently accounts for a much smaller portion of our revenue, is a non-tracking affiliate partnership with eBay.
When you visit eBay through DuckDuckGo and subsequently make a purchase, we receive a small commission. This mechanism operates anonymously and there is no personally identifiable information exchanged between us and eBay. The reason we can do this in an anonymous way with eBay, though not with other retailers, is because eBay runs their own affiliate networks.
Any affiliate links that appear in our regular organic links (like some eBay links) do not influence our ranking or relevancy functions in any way. That is, they are not advertising like paid placements or paid inclusions, and we only generate revenue from them if you ultimately find them relevant enough to end up purchasing an item. And just like our search advertising, they are not based on any profiling, because we don’t do that. Using the Internet doesn’t have to feel like you’re being watched, listened to, and monitored!
Google, Facebook, and The Creepy Line
Google also makes much of their money via keyword-based advertising that doesn’t require any search-history tracking, for example if you type in car on Google you will also see car ads. So why do they track it all then? Because Google is not really a search company; they are an advertising company. On Google, your searches are tracked, mined, and packaged up into a data profile for advertisers to follow you around the Internet through intrusive and annoying ever-present banner ads, using Google’s massive ad networks, embedded across millions of websites and apps. This is why if you search for something on Google, you may start seeing ads for it everywhere.
Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO and Chairman, famously said “Google’s policy on a lot of these things is to get right up to the creepy line, but not cross it.” But for most people, that line was crossed by Google, Facebook, and others long ago. Alarmingly, Google now deploys hidden trackers on 85% of the top 50,000 websites to monitor your behavior and Facebook has hidden trackers on about 36% of websites, according to our research. That means, it is likely that Google and/or Facebook are watching you on most sites you visit, in addition to tracking you when using their products.
As a result, these two companies have amassed huge data profiles on individuals, which can include interests, past purchases, search, browsing and location history, and much more. This personal data is stored indefinitely and used for invasive targeted advertising that can follow you around the Internet.
This advertising system is designed to enable hyper-targeting, which has many unintended consequences that have dominated the headlines in recent years, such as the ability for bad actors to use the system to influence elections, to exclude groups in a way that facilitates discrimination (such as for job, housing, and educational opportunities), and to expose your personal data to companies you’ve never even heard of.
At DuckDuckGo, our mission is to make simple privacy protection available to everyone. Period. That’s why our core product is free to use and we package all the privacy protections we can into one download. See our individual store listings for platform-specific details: iOS/Android/Firefox, Chrome, Edge, and Safari.
Note: This blog post has been edited since initial publication to stay up to date with our evolving product offerings.