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DuckDuckGo Ups Ante: Gives $300K to ‘Raise the Standard of Trust’

For the seventh year in a row, the search engine that promises not to stalk your online moves puts its money where its mouth is, this year by donating $300,000 to organizations that work towards online privacy.

DuckDuckGo logo

The search engine DuckDuckGo isn’t Google — in more ways than one. For starters, its whole premise is to not follow you around as you surf the web. It’s also not rich, so it doesn’t have gazillions of dollars to throw at whatever project strikes its fancy. However, the people who run the little search engine that can are very generous with what money they do have.

As they have for the last seven years, this year they’ve been busy handing out money again.

Since 2011, the search engine has been annually handing out cash awards “to organizations that share a similar vision.” And every year, as the search engine company has watched its fortunes grow, it’s increased the amount it gives — from a total of $1,500 in 2011 to this year’s $300,000. Last year it handed out $225,000.

The majority of this year’s donations,s — $279,000 to be exact — went to six nonprofit organizations:

  • Freedom of the Press Foundation: The organization, which counts Daniel Ellsberg, Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Xeni Jardin, as well as an assortment of activists, celebrities, and filmmakers, as members of its board, received a donation of $100,000 to train journalists on privacy.

  • World Privacy Forum: According to the organization’s website, this group “is focused on conducting in-depth research, analysis, and consumer education in the area of data privacy, and focuses on pressing and emerging issues.” DuckDuckGo donated $75,000 “towards the creation of a Parent’s Guide to Privacy.”

  • Open Whisper Systems: This is the organization behind the Signal apps for encrypted private messaging and voice calling — which offer the added benefit of all calls being free of long distance charges. Because of the way the system is designed, last year when the organization was subpoenaed to provide information on a users’ phone number for a federal grand jury, it could supply only “the time the user’s account had been created and the last time it had connected to the service.” They’ve got your back, in other words. DuckDuckGo gave them $29,000.

  • Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: Around since 1992, PRC works to help individuals protect their privacy by providing one-on-one assistance, issuing educational publications and advocating for consumer-friendly privacy policies. DuckDuckGo has donated $25,000, earmarked for the creation of “a series of animated videos explaining online privacy issues to a mainstream audience.”

  • Tor: This is a project that’s probably well known to everyone who regularly visits FOSS Force. In fact, many of you probably got to our site by way of Tor. Simply put, Tor offers a way to navigate the Internet anonymously. This year’s $25,000 donation marks the fourth year that DuckDuckGo has donated to the project.

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation: EFF, which defends civil liberties in the digital world, is another organization that probably needs no introduction. DuckDuckGo gave them $25,000 to be used for the “continued development of Privacy Badger, the browser add-on that ‘blocks spying ads and invisible trackers.'”

In addition, DuckDuckGo made smaller donations in the $5,000-$1,000 range, to 10 other organizations.


  1. Mike S. Mike S. February 15, 2017

    I use DuckDuckGo as my browser, but I have one headache and a concern.

    The headache is that for search queries that use more than three or four terms, Google and Bing work better. I routinely find myself using “!g term1 term2 term3 term4” for DuckDuckGo to forward my search through Google because I know that it won’t work on their own engine.

    The concern is their revenue model. They still make their money from ads. That means their stated goal of search without tracking and their financial goals are at odds with each other. That could cause problems someday. Or for all we know, thanks to technologies like browser fingerprinting (look it up if you’re not aware of it), they could be tracking users already.

  2. Mike S. Mike S. February 15, 2017

    (I meant search engine, not browser. Sorry.)

  3. Christine Hall Christine Hall February 15, 2017

    @Mike S. They’re not tracking whatsoever and are proving the point that tracking isn’t a necessary component of ad sales. With tracking, advertisers can up their ad rates, but without tracking there would still be sales. DDG uses ad services that generally track, but has the ads delivered to its servers then passes the ads on to you without passing your information back to the source.

    Television, radio and newspapers all manage to sell advertising without stepping on your privacy.

  4. Mike S. Mike S. February 15, 2017

    @Christine Hall,
    Television, radio, and newspapers can’t step on your privacy by the nature of their business. If NBC wants to target ads at me, they have to partner with some other companies to collect more data about my habits. They can’t figure out anything about me from their television (since I use an antenna so there’s no means for them to detect which shows I watch).

    With anything internet-based, advertisers will pay more for targeted advertising than generic. So while DDG is trying to do the right thing, and I applaud them for it, they are acting against their own maximum profitability. How long can that last? Five years? Ten years?

    And further, tracking technology is improving. So if they take a turn to the Google Side, it will be hard for us to know.

  5. Christine Hall Christine Hall February 15, 2017

    @Mike S. My point, Mike, was that if other media can sell advertising without tracking, so can websites.

    And DDG’s whole business model is based on trust. If they lose your trust, they know they’ll never get it back — as does every trustworthy person.

  6. Simon Simon February 15, 2017

    @Mike S. “they are acting against their own maximum profitability” — indeed; if only there were more organizations for whom “their own maximum profitability” isn’t the only thing in the world that matters.

  7. Mike S. Mike S. February 15, 2017

    To be clear, I’m not a fan of the capitalist focus on profitability above all else. But the market is soulless. If you have a conscience, you’re at high risk of getting driven out of business or bought by a competitor without one.

  8. bigsky bigsky February 15, 2017

    @Simon Exactly. How much MORE do they want or need ?

  9. M. Robinson M. Robinson February 16, 2017

    I would be more impressed if the funds went to an auditing/bounty-hunter group.

    Hopefully Tor can now afford to set the DDG HTML search plugin as the default search plugin. It’s past annoying to enter a DDG search and then click the link for a redirect.

  10. Flan OBrien Flan OBrien February 16, 2017

    “I routinely find myself using !g”

    Me too.
    What is it about search that is complicated to get right?
    Data volumes?
    Does DDG spider the internet for its indexes?

    Like “Mike S.” I keep DDG as default for “ethical” reasons. For effective search I go elsewhere.

    Perhaps DDG needs to invest in its own search engine to guarantee its future.

  11. Mike S. Mike S. February 16, 2017

    @Flan OBrien,
    I don’t have a strong grasp of the concepts in search, but from what I do know I suspect the weakness of DuckDuckGo in searches with three or four terms or specific phrases is financial and not technical.

    Maintaining a slow but complete one-keyword search index of the entire internet is probably possible with a single computer. Say 500,000 single search terms with anywhere from 50-5000 hits each and your total data set isn’t that big.

    But if you’ve got a two-keyword search index you haven’t doubled the size of your data to manage, you’ve probably come some significant portion of the way towards squaring it. If you had 3 billion records for single word searches, now you have some number not too far from 9 billion billion. You don’t actually square it, because some keyword combinations won’t happen. The two word phrase “octopus mummy” will not need to be tracked unless someone gets creative when naming their band. A three word matching index would correspondingly be on the way towards 27 billion billion billion, and so forth.

    So past a certain point, Google and Microsoft/Bing have the money to store hits for “Jenkins plugin job locks-and-latches intermittent hang” on tens of thousands of of servers but when you search on DuckDuckGo they just give you their best hits for “Jenkins plugin job” and hope for the best, because they would need an extra hundred million dollars to scale their index that big.

    (Anyone that knows search better, please correct me.)

  12. Flan Obrien Flan Obrien February 17, 2017

    I’m guessing too, but I believe Google will be using a similar approach to what is used in translation – Bayesian Models. Words and sentences are grouped according to probability of occurrence. Attacking the entire combinatorial space of words is not attempted.

    It would be great if the yacy peer to peer project could succeed, cutting out the Orwellian Oligarchs completely.

    Yacy search results are respectable.

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