Inside The Private Search Alternative

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Written by Matt G. Southern –

As digital advertising grows arguably more intrusive, DuckDuckGo offers marketers a privacy-focused alternative through its partnership with Microsoft.

In an exclusive interview with Search Engine Journal, Steve Fischer, Chief Business Officer at DuckDuckGo, explains how the company’s contextual advertising model respects user privacy while providing relevant ads and analytics to advertisers.

This article provides key insights into DuckDuckGo’s privacy-first approach, contrasting it with competitors like Google.

As third-party cookies are phased out due to increased privacy regulations, marketers are concerned about how to reach potential customers without collecting as much data.

DuckDuckGo offers an alternative. The company says its ads respect user privacy while enabling marketers to target relevant audiences.

With Google facing an antitrust lawsuit alleging anti-competitive practices, DuckDuckGo’s approach is gaining renewed relevance.

Google stands accused of stifling competition and reducing consumer choice to dominate the search and advertising market further.

As regulators scrutinize potential anti-competitive behavior, options like DuckDuckGo give the marketplace increased choice.

DuckDuckGo & Microsoft: A Partnership Built On Privacy

DuckDuckGo takes the stance that privacy is a fundamental human right. As a result, DuckDuckGo has constructed its business model to safeguard user privacy no matter what.

This differs from the practices of many other tech companies, which regularly gather and analyze user data for purposes like advertising.

Fischer tells Search Engine Journal that data collection is unnecessary:

“It’s a myth that search engines need to track you to make money. We make our money from private ads on our search engine. On most other search engines, ads are based on profiles compiled from your personal information, such as search, browsing, and purchase history.”

A private search ad is an online advertisement targeted based on the context of what you’re searching for, rather than targeting you based on personal data and web history.

For example, if you search for “mountain bikes,” you may see ads for mountain bike brands and gear that match the topic you were searching for. However, the advertisers don’t know your name, email, or browsing history.

This allows for relevant advertising without tracking individuals across multiple sites.

What Does DuckDuckGo Do Different?

Unlike its competitors, DuckDuckGo doesn’t monitor users’ searches or browsing history and prevents other companies from doing so.

Instead, it displays private advertisements on its search engine based on search results, not personal data, to generate revenue.

“[Some] search engines associate individuals’ ad-click behavior with a user profile, which can be used later to target ads on that search engine or around the Internet.
[But] when you click on a Microsoft-provided ad that appears on DuckDuckGo, neither DuckDuckGo nor Microsoft Advertising associates your ad-click behavior with a user profile.”

This method aligns with research indicating that nearly half of surveyed publishing executives don’t believe behavioral advertising provides significant advantages.

Working with Microsoft has been fruitful, turning DuckDuckGo into an advertising platform with an expanding user base of over 30 million in the United States and around 100 million globally.

DuckDuckGo vs. Google

DuckDuckGo takes a unique approach to privacy and transparency. Fischer explains:

“Our focus on contextual advertising – only serving ads based on the keywords a user types into that one search, not on their past behavior – has fueled our profitable growth.

Conversely, Google’s business model relies heavily on collecting and analyzing user data. Google collects vast amounts of user data across its products and services, including search queries, browsing history, location data and more.”

Google’s data collection practices are documented in an advertising policy page stating that “Google will use your information to make your ads more useful for you.”

However, it’s worth noting that Google allows users to opt out of personalized ads, which prevents the company from gathering and leveraging your information to build a profile for ad-targeting purposes.

If you turn off ad personalization in your Google account settings, Google won’t collect or utilize your data to customize ads shown to you.

DuckDuckGo has help pages that clearly explain how ads are selected and displayed on its site and how its ad auction process works.

Complying With Privacy Regulations

Fischer also explained that since the search engine doesn’t gather any user data for advertising purposes, it easily complies with privacy laws like the GDPR and CCPA that restrict companies’ data collection and use.

Since DuckDuckGo doesn’t profile users or sell their information to advertisers, it avoids the regulatory compliance burdens faced by other tech companies whose business models rely on targeted advertising.

DuckDuckGo embraces “data minimalism,” gathering only essential user information, including usage and diagnostic data not tied to individual users, and avoiding storage of personal data. Data minimalism is gaining appeal as regulations tighten worldwide.

Measuring Ad Performance While Maintaining Privacy

Purchasing advertisements on DuckDuckGo through Microsoft Advertising gives marketers vital campaign analytics while protecting privacy.

Microsoft’s platform supplies all the critical data. However, ad click information isn’t linked to user profiles.

Fischer explains:

“Buying ads on DuckDuckGo through Microsoft Advertising means the measurement and reporting will be provided by Microsoft. Marketers can receive critical information they need from buying these ads to optimize and run effective search campaigns.

Conversions can also be measured via Microsoft’s advertising platform (once a customer clicks on an ad, the full IP address and user-agent string is used so the ad-click can be properly processed and charged to the advertiser). However, the ad-click isn’t associated with a user profile, nor does this data get stored or shared other than for accounting purposes.”

In other words: DuckDuckGo’s relationship with Microsoft has been mutually advantageous. Microsoft gains a way to display advertisements in a privacy-focused setting, while DuckDuckGo derives an income stream that doesn’t conflict with its business priorities.

Future Plans For Privacy Enhancement

DuckDuckGo intends to keep investing in new technologies to improve user privacy.

“DuckDuckGo remains an ad-based business, constantly working to deliver relevant but privacy-respecting advertising to our audience.”

One innovation the company is working on is a privately-designed ad conversion platform that can be externally verified. This would empower advertisers to evaluate ad effectiveness while protecting user privacy fully.

“Private conversion measurement is an industry-wide effort, with companies such as Apple and Mozilla also working on attribution technology, which respects user privacy, and we’ve started working on an architecture for private ad conversions that can be externally validated as non-profiling.”

In Summary

As attitudes and regulations evolve regarding privacy, DuckDuckGo’s contextual advertising model offers an alternative for digital marketers.

By partnering with Microsoft Advertising, DuckDuckGo provides relevant ads without collecting personal data.

As innovations like privately designed ad platforms emerge, privacy-focused options will likely continue expanding.

Featured Image: IB Photography/Shutterstock

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