What is DuckDuckGo?
DuckDuckGo is a search engine similar to Google but, with a major difference – It does not track you! In the modern era of internet where the knowledge acquired by the entire humankind is available at your fingertips, the rise of corporate and government-funded digital-tracking has become a major threat to people’s privacy.
Almost all major search engines including Google, Bing and Yahoo track you. Google most of all!
Why and how much do they track?
The reason to why they track is simple – Money! Most companies that provide their product without a cost to thier users earn on the data they collected about them. The data collected about your search history, websites visited, time spent on a website, etc. is used to profile you and categorize your interests and then sold to advertisement companies to make the profit. This is the same business model that social media companies like facebook, twitter, etc. use to make money off of your data.
In a world with companies offering free services, the consumer becomes their product!
Google not only logs your search history from its search engine but also tracks your activities on various websites you visit by paying them to run their scripts on the site’s webpages.
Don’t believe it?
I know it might sound like a conspiracy theory but you’d be amazed to know how easy it is to verify these claims. Simply install a plugin like uBlock Origin (For Firefox or For Chrome) that lets you see the domains that a website is trying to connect to from your computer and you’ll find that Google’s and Facebook’s trackers are all over the internet.
When you visit a website, the website’s content is downloaded to your device including HTML page, CSS styling and Java Scripts. The websites paid by Google and Facebook send you some additional Java Scripts along with their contents that connect to Google’s and Facebook’s servers and send your information to them.
This is also the reason why you see ads similar to your search history all over the internet, specially on websites like YouTube, Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc.
The screenshot above is marked with a box that displays that when I visit Standard Chartered’s website, a total of 5 domains get information about my presence on that website. Of these 5 domains, the requests to sc.com and www.sc.com were partially blocked (Red Arrow marked 1), gioip-js.com and googletagmanager.com were completely blocked (Red Arrow Marked 2) and maps.googleapis.com were not at all blocked (Red Arrow Marked 3) by uBlock Origin’s default set of filters. If you’d look a little to the right of that red box, you’d notice that despite 7 requests being blocked in total (13% of all requests on that page), the website was still completely functional and that it did not break.
What’s in it for the government?
Frankly, to answer this question is difficult. Sometimes, governments ask these companies to share the data to track their citizens for various reasons. Other times, the governments ask companies like Google to help identify the protestors by disclosing their mobile phone’s GPS location at the time of protests and as a quid pro quo they kill their competition by passing Laws to ban sites like DuckDuckGo. We can never know these answers for sure as these deals are made behind closed doors.
So, what do I do about DuckDuckGo?
Well, fortunately the solution to this problem is extremely simple. You can go to the Menu section of Firefox, select Options, go to the “General” settings tab, scroll all the way to the bottom and click the “Settings” button under “Network Settings”.
On the menu that pops up, scroll to the bottom and select “Enable DNS Over HTTPS” and from the dropdown, you can select “NextDNS” as your “Use Provider”.
Besides the two options provided by Firefox, you can also find a list of other HTTPS-enabled privacy-oriented DNS services on PrivacyTools.io – DNS page.
How Does This Solution Work?
To understand how this solution work, we first need to understand how does the DNS work and how does SSL certificate work. Once you understand that, you’d notice the if your DNS queries are sent over HTTPS, they can only be read by the DNS server and not by your ISP’s firewall. Without reading the your DNS query, they cannot tamper or block its intended response and hence cannot block you from getting its IP address.
Is It A Fool-Proof Solution?
The unfortunate answer is No! There are other ways that a government can block a website like IP address based filtering, content based filtering, etc. And even if you bypass these filters and access DuckDuckGo, by no mean you become anonymous over the internet but, switching to an actively-maintained open-sourced browser such as Firefox, installing malware/tracking blocker plugin like uBlock Origin and switching to a privacy-oriented search engine can dramatically reduce your digital footprint. It could be your first step towards a long journey of internet anonymity and digital privacy!