Antivirus Guide

DuckDuckGo: Is It Safe?

Can you truly search in safety with DuckDuckGo? Let’s find out!

By
&
Aliza Vigderman
Gabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Jul 8, 2022
By Aliza Vigderman & Gabe Turner on Jul 8, 2022

DuckDuckGo built its reputation on its privacy claims. The DuckDuckGo search engine, for example, promises it doesn’t record any search queries. Its Chrome extension promises to identify and block any trackers on the websites you visit. And the company’s browsers for Android and iOS devices promise to force sites to use encrypted connections whenever they’re available.

That’s a lot of promises, all of which sound pretty good. As digital privacy and security advocates, we’re always on the lookout for tools that make web browsing safer. Apparently, a lot of other internet users feel the same way. According to DuckDuckGo’s own figures, traffic at the search site has grown from 16.4 million searches in 2010 to over 35 billion in 2021.1

It’s one thing to say you protect users’ anonymity, but it’s another to deliver on that promise. Does DuckDuckGo actually do all it claims? Are there any hidden dangers to using it? What should you do to make sure you’re protected? You don’t have the time to methodically test DuckDuckGo for the answers to these questions, but we do! Keep reading to discover whether DuckDuckGo is right for you or if you need to keep searching to find the right search engine.

DuckDuckGo’s Recent Growth

2021 35.3 billion searches
2020 23.7 billion searches
2019 15.1 billion searches
2018 9.2 billion searches

Is DuckDuckGo Safe?

We’re big fans of privacy, so we’ve been using DuckDuckGo since way back. The very nature of the DuckDuckGo search engine guarantees all our searches are safe and anonymous. No one is recording data about us, no one is tracking our online movements, and no one is bombarding us with endless ads.

That doesn’t mean you can simply use the search engine — or any of DuckDuckGo’s other products — to surf the web worry-free. DuckDuckGo can’t keep you from clicking unsafe links, downloading suspicious files, or falling prey to phishing schemes. No website, app, or piece of software can do that.

DuckDuckGo Mobile
DuckDuckGo Mobile

A bit more troubling is news about the company’s most recent venture: its browser built for Android and iOS. The DuckDuckGo browser is supposed to block trackers, helping keep users’ data secure. The company, however, was recently forced to admit its browser doesn’t actually block Microsoft trackers because of the wording in a reciprocity agreement.

Despite this story, we still regard DuckDuckGo as a trustworthy company. It offers a safe, secure search engine and other privacy-boosting browsing tools that, in combination with some basic common-sense measures, can improve both your privacy and your security when you’re online.

FYI: Most search engines work through search engine bots, or spiders, that download websites and follow links on these pages to discover new pages. Some engines also rely on other search engines to fill out their results.

How DuckDuckGo Protects You

DuckDuckGo’s search engine has two important features you won’t find with other search engines — we’re looking at you, Google — that ultimately make you more secure.

  • No IP address tracking: DuckDuckGo doesn’t record your IP address when you perform a search. Google, Bing, and many others use your IP address to tailor search results to your individual preferences. That can certainly be handy, such as when they suggest search terms for you when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for. The problem is, these companies also use the data they gather to target you with ads. Worse still, many sell that data to third parties. Just holding on to the information creates risk. A single breach at Google could put every user’s data in the hands of hackers and identity thieves.
  • No search histories: DuckDuckGo doesn’t record your search history in any way. Search histories can sometimes be useful, but they can also be used against you by law enforcement and government agencies. Once you’ve searched, the record of that search disappears forever.

Beyond these built-in features, DuckDuckGo goes further to protect you when you’re searching and browsing. Here are a handful of other noteworthy features and considerations:

  • No search leakage: Search leaks can be a major privacy danger. They occur when search engines transmit your search terms to the site you ultimately choose to visit. DuckDuckGo doesn’t connect you directly to the pages that show up in your searches. Instead, it redirects all links so there’s no chance of leakage.
  • Tracker blocker: DuckDuckGo offers tracker blocking through its Chrome add-on and Android and iOS browsers. DuckDuckGo already promises it’s not collecting data about you, and this tracker prevents other companies from doing it.
  • Ad blocking: Online ads are more than just an annoyance. Click on one fake ad and, boom, your device is infected with adware or worse. Even legitimate ads often contain trackers. DuckDuckGo offers an ad blocker through its browser or as an add-on to Chrome, Safari, Explorer, and Opera.
  • Global Privacy Control: DuckDuckGo’s Global Privacy Control extension lets every site you visit know you want the maximum privacy you can get. You don’t have to do anything else. Just turn it on, and you’re protected from trackers and spyware.
  • HTTPS: A single “s” in the web address you type can make all the difference to your safety. HTTPS pages are encrypted; HTTP pages aren’t. It’s as simple as that. DuckDuckGo search results always include the HTTPS version of sites when they are available. Likewise, the DuckDuckGo browser offers a warning if you try to access the unencrypted version of a site.
  • Privacy grades: The DuckDuckGo add-on and browser scan every site you visit and give it a privacy grade based on a review of the site’s terms of service and the number of tracking requests the site sends. That lets you make informed decisions about where you go and whom you trust.
  • Burn bar: The DuckDuckGo browser comes with a special feature: a burn bar. Tap the fire icon at the top of the screen when you’re done browsing, and the browser deletes all your browsing data. No one can go back and piece together what you’ve been up to.

Pro Tip: Always stick to websites that use the HTTPS prefix. That “s” at the end guarantees they are encrypted.

DuckDuckGo’s Privacy Policy

The best way to know if a website or app is safe is to look at its privacy policy. That’s where it tells you, up front, what data it does and doesn’t collect and what it does with that data.

DuckDuckGo’s policy is pretty simple. The first line reads, “DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information. That is our privacy policy in a nutshell.”2 The rest of the policy offers details about all the things the company doesn’t collect, describes what other search engines collect, and explains why you should care.

Basically, DuckDuckGo’s founders created the search engine to improve online privacy, and the company is still committed to that goal.

DuckDuckGo Risks

We think of DuckDuckGo as one of the safest sites on the web, but there are a couple issues you should know about.

  • Malware vulnerabilities: Using DuckDuckGo doesn’t prevent you from getting viruses or other kinds of malware. The search engine doesn’t come with any sort of built-in antivirus, and any page suggested by the search engine could potentially contain malware. None of the mainstream search engines, such as Google or Bing, offer that kind of protection either. For that, you’ll need a specialty search engine, such as the one put out by Norton Antivirus.
  • Tracker trouble: Many privacy advocates were concerned by the recent revelation that DuckDuckGo’s browser allows Microsoft tackers on third-party pages. The company automatically blocks all other trackers it finds on websites, but a 2022 audit discovered that it has a syndication agreement with Microsoft that requires it to allow the company’s trackers.It is worth noting that DuckDuckGo insists the agreement doesn’t apply to its search engine. In addition, the trackers in question supposedly collect only anonymized data. Even so, we can’t help but be bothered that DuckDuckGo wasn’t up front with users in the first place.
  • ISP eyes: DuckDuckGo itself doesn’t keep track of your searches, but your internet service provider (ISP) likely does. ISPs usually monitor all your activity when you’re online. If you want a truly anonymous web experience, then you need to pair the DuckDuckGo search engine with a top-tier VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, routes your internet connection through an encrypted tunnel and assigns you an anonymous IP address so not even your ISP can track your activity.

Protecting Yourself on DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a great tool for anyone looking to protect their privacy, but you can’t expect a search engine or browser to guarantee your privacy or security when you’re online. Using DuckDuckGo is a great start to improving your safety, but it’s just a start. Here’s a list of other things that will help:

  1. Use strong passwords. You should create strong passwords for all your online accounts and devices. That means avoiding passwords that rely on your personal information, such as birth dates or maiden names. You should also use numbers and symbols to make your passwords more difficult to crack. Concerned about your passwords? Visit our free password checker to find out how strong they are.
  2. Never share your passwords or other login information. No matter how much you may trust someone, you should never tell them your passwords or provide them with any other information that may help them access your accounts. The bottom line is you can never know what they might do with it.
  3. Use multifactor authentication. If you use multifactor authentication, no one can access your accounts even if they guess your password. They’ll still need another piece of information that only you’ll have access to.
  4. Trust only users and businesses you know. Someone once said a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. When you’re online, the more accurate saying is a stranger is just a hacker who hasn’t yet had the chance to steal your identity. Stick to people and businesses you know and trust.
  5. Use a VPN. A VPN routes your internet connection through an encrypted tunnel and assigns you an anonymous IP address. It ensures both your privacy and your security.
  6. Install antivirus software. You’re a target for adware, spyware, and other sorts of malware. A search engine can’t protect you from these dangers, and even a browser can’t offer 100 percent protection from them. The best antivirus software, though, can scan each and every file before you download it to your device and can even help you find and identify viruses that may already be on your device.
  7. Use an identity theft protection service. You can take all these steps, but you’ll still be vulnerable to fraud and identity theft. The companies you do business with keep track of your information and you never know when a hacker will find a way into their databases. The best identity theft protection services, such as Aura, keep track of your identity, monitor your financial accounts, and insure you in the event of a breach.

Recap

The simplest answer to the question of whether DuckDuckGo is safe is yes. The company’s flagship, its search engine, certainly doesn’t expose you to any risk. It doesn’t collect information about you the way Google does, so there’s no information for hackers to get their hands on. As an added bonus, DuckDuckGo doesn’t associate your searches with your IP address or maintain your search history. Your searches are private and anonymous.

Further, DuckDuckGo’s add-ons and browsers help boost your safety by verifying the sites you visit, blocking trackers and ads, and giving you tools to delete your browsing history.

DuckDuckGo’s search engines are extraordinarily safe and its other products can help boost your security, but DuckDuckGo can’t on its own protect you from all the dangers that lurk online. You still need a good antivirus to keep malware at bay. You still need a VPN if you want to be truly anonymous. And you still need to use some common sense about who you trust and what you trust them with. If you recognize you must take these precautions, then DuckDuckGo is not only safe, but also an excellent addition to your digital toolkit.

DuckDuckGo FAQs

In case you have more questions about whether DuckDuckGo is safe, we’ve put together answers to some of your most frequently asked questions.

  • Which search engine is safer: Google or DuckDuckGo?

    DuckDuckGo is the safer search engine. Google keeps track of your entire search history by connecting it to your IP address. That can make searches a bit more convenient since it allows Google to offer autofill and tailor results to your interests, but the company doesn’t reveal the many ways it uses the data it collects. At a minimum, it presents you with targeted ads. It’s willing to turn over information about you to law enforcement and other government agencies. And there’s no way of knowing when a hacker might gain access to all that data. In contrast, DuckDuckGo keeps no record of your searches whatsoever. More importantly, it doesn’t track your IP address.

  • Is DuckDuckGo owned by Google?

    DuckDuckGo is not owned by Google. Instead, it is owned by Duck Duck Go, Inc., which was founded by Gabriel Weinberg.

  • What is the safest search engine?

    DuckDuckGo is among the safest search engines. The answer to this question, though, depends on how you define “safe.” If you’re looking for a search engine that can protect you from malware and phishing schemes, then you may want to consider one that uses antivirus software, such as the Norton Search Engine. If you’re looking for a search engine that doesn’t record your search history, then DuckDuckGo is the way to go. The same is true if you want to avoid search engines that collect metadata on you or target you with ads based on your search history

  • Is DuckDuckGo part of the dark web?

    You can browse parts of the dark web using DuckDuckGo, but not all of it. The dark web is accessible just like the rest of the web, but it requires a search engine that can locate hidden sites. DuckDuckGo provides results that include some of these sites, but it doesn’t return all of them.

  • Does DuckDuckGo hide IP addresses?

    DuckDuckGo does not hide IP addresses, but it makes sure your IP address is not associated with your searches. Even if you’re using DuckDuckGo, however, your ISP may very well be monitoring all your activity and could still be tracking your searches. The only way to hide your IP address is by using a VPN to connect to the internet.

Citations
  1. DuckDuckGo. (2022). DuckDuckGo Search Traffic.
    duckduckgo.com/traffic

  2. DuckDuckGo. (2022). We don't collect or share personal information.
    duckduckgo.com/privacy