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DuckDuckGo hits 1bn annual searches: non-tracking search engine boosted by privacy fears

Concerns over internet surveillance in 2013 led to a bumper year for the search engine that does not track its users

‘Anonymous’ search engine DuckDuckGo announced yesterday that 2013 was its biggest year to date, with over one billion searches made.

The increasing success of the search engine – which doesn’t track of users’ search queries in order to create a profile of the individual – is credited to the revelations of ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden regarding state surveillance in the US and UK.

“Needless to say, it was a great year for us,” said DuckDuckGo in a blogpost. “We're looking forward to similar greatness in 2014. We have a lot of big things planned for this year that we hope will address a lot of the excellent feedback you have been giving us for some time. So please stay tuned.”

In the months following the publication of Snowden’s files by newspapers on both side of the Atlantic visitor numbers more than doubled and on 7 January this year the site had its biggest single day, serving 4,452,957 queries in 24 hours.

Speaking to The Independent in June last year, DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg said that users turned to the search engine because of their strong privacy policy but stayed because they get “a better search experience”.

DuckDuck's search traffic growth in 2013. Credit: DuckDuckGo.

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.

However, although DuckDuckGo’s growth is remarkable, it is still dwarfed by Google, who boast “more than a billion Google searches each day”.