Stuart A. Thompson just published an article on The New York Times explaining how DuckDuckGo was becoming the favorite search engine of conspiracy theorists. The point in case is that the contender search engine’s algorithm is less evolved than Google’s, thus leaving more room for abuse by malicious content writers. Conspiracy theorists would also identify Google as a Big Tech big brother, hence making it more inclined to push Washington’s propaganda.
The journalist accurately reminds his readers that DuckDuckGo is merely a mashup of Bing’s technology, so in a way its search results come from the same Big Tech’s womb as Google’s search results. It focuses on users’ privacy, but that doesn’t mean it completely changes the algorithmic results served by Bing.
Believing that DuckDuckGo doesn’t have its hands tied like the other major players in the search engine arena is pretty naive. As a reminder, in January 2020, DuckDuckGo became one of the default search options on all Android distributed in Europe. You may argue that Google made this move merely to avoid EU antitrust rules, but this kind of predominant position comes at a price for DuckDuckGo in terms of moral compliance.
DuckDuckGo was not the only search engine to become a default option on Android phones in Europe, many other search engines are suggested by Android. This means the search engines’ marketing team now has to work even harder to turn this sudden big exposure into conversions. Making a push to pretend it is the “uncensored search engine” of the masses may just be a PR stunt to win the hearts of the disbelievers who don’t have the technical knowledge to see that it is simply not true. There is nothing in the company’s promise or technology that could back up such a statement.
In April 2021, DuckDuckGo, along with a fleet of other search players, launched a war against Google’s new ad-tracking technology, but user privacy is the battle of DuckDuckGo, so it did not really have a choice. It could have chosen to remain silent and just focus on its product, but that would mean missing an opportunity to be mentioned over and over again in the press, a sign that DuckDuckGo does bet on PR for exposure.
In December 2021, DuckDuckGo announced it was working on the development of its own homemade browser. It is evident that the Pennsylvania-based search player is investing a lot of money right now to compete against Google, and there’s probably a good share of that budget going towards PR and advertising. Since DuckDuckGo prides itself in being anti-ads, advertising its products could never happen in the form of traditional advertising. PR thus becomes the only way to reach the consumers’ eyeballs, and storifying itself as the uncensored search engine is the catchy tune it composed to become a watercooler discussion.