Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo is on the rise. As of the time of this writing, DuckDuckGo has tallied 35.8 billion total queries in 2021, up from 23.7 billion in 2020, and more than 10 times its traffic from 2015. That success comes as the company announces that it’s developing a desktop browser to go with its popular mobile apps. And in a recent blog post, DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg said that the company has been profitable since 2014. So, how does DuckDuckGo make money?
It’s certainly not by selling out its users’ information. As Weinberg explained, search engines make money from advertising based on keywords, not identity. “Almost all of the money search engines make (including Google) is based on the keywords you type in, without knowing anything about you, including your search history or the seemingly endless amounts of additional data points they have collected about registered and non-registered users alike.”
DuckDuckGo makes most of its money from keyword-based advertising
In the blog post, Weinberg told users that keyword-based advertising is DuckDuckGo’s “primary business model.” The search engine shows users ads based on the keywords of each query, and the queries are kept anonymous. Advertisers, in turn, bid on keywords and not on the people searching for those keywords, he explained. “It makes intuitive sense, too,” he added. “If you search for ‘car,’ you are more likely to respond to a car ad than something you searched for last week.”
Weinberg also said that Google also makes most of its money from keyword-based advertising—and that the search giant wouldn’t have to track its users’ search histories to turn a profit.
“So why do they track it all then?” he wrote. “Because Google is not really a search company; they are an advertising company. On Google, your searches are tracked, mined, and packaged up into a data profile for advertisers to follow you around the Internet through intrusive and annoying ever-present banner ads, using Google’s massive ad networks, embedded across millions of sites and apps.”
The company also makes money from “non-tracking affiliate partnerships” with Amazon and eBay
Weinberg said that DuckDuckGo is always looking for ways to anonymously make money so that it doesn’t have to rely so heavily on advertising. And one of those alternative sources of income is what he called “non-tracking affiliate partnerships” with Amazon and eBay. With those partnerships, DuckDuckGo makes a commission when a user follows a DuckDuckGo link to Amazon or eBay and makes a purchase.
The DuckDuckGo CEO clarified that the affiliate partnerships operate anonymously with no personally identifiable information sent to or from Amazon or eBay and no influence on search-result ranking.
Elsewhere in the blog post, Weinberg argued that Google and Facebook’s business models “don’t need to be this invasive...It is a choice to squeeze every last ounce of profit at the expense of privacy, democracy, and society. A choice they don’t have to make,” he said. “Without all this tracking, I’m confident they would still be among the most profitable companies in the world, and we’d all be better off.”