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Snowden Surprise: Anonymous search makes DuckDuckGo successful in 2013


DuckDuckGo became more than a Google alternative with an amusing name, in 2013. After Edward Snowden revealed the existence of the CIA’s worldwide internet surveillance programme, PRISM, the five-year-old search engine became the go-to destination for millions of privacy-concerned net users.

Google, the world’s largest search entity, was implicated in PRISM, which was said to have backdoor access to user information at the big G, as well as Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. In the wake of those revelations, DuckDuckGo became the epitome of a small, agile company by adapting and offering something users would want: an anonymous search engine.

Most people might not have known about DuckDuckGo before the 5th of June, last year, when the first PRISM leaks started surfacing, but since then its popularity has escalated – even here in South Africa, where its popularity spiked in July, and it’s seen interest ever since. The company reported recently that it handled over 1-billion searches in 2013.

In the same post, the company says that it’s looking forward to more success 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,” says the blog post.

Since then, Google’s also taken measures to protect its users. One of those is to encrypt searches – something that’ll prevent the NSA from snooping around the questions people ask online, but it has the effect of harming third-party website analytics. Websites running on popular platforms will see all of Google’s encrypted searches just as that, rather than seeing the terms people used to arrive at the site.

This year will likely see Google take more measures to protect its users’ data, but people will see all of its moves as reactive, rather than proactive. The damage has been done and the company is now seen as one that works with American agencies, and the internet’s tech-savvy people are also cynical: the company that once had the motto of “Do no evil” has done evil, and earning the trust of people all over again will be a big challenge. Something DuckDuckGo will use to its advantage, as it helps keep things anonymous online.

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