Proof Positive That One Can Do Good, Make a Profit, and Serve the Public
First, a Reminder of What We Don’t Like
By now, we all know that pretty much everything we do on Facebook and on Google (and its various entities) is tracked and fed into various tools designed to feed us ads more likely to ring a bell with us. In principle, not a terrible thing. It could be helpful to get ads more relevant to our interests.
But there surely is a dark side. We have no transparency and very little say over what is recorded about us, who uses it, and how such data is used. Some vague assurances to the contrary, we have good reasons to be concerned. For me at least, that means I am judicious about what I post on Facebook (wish there was a better alternative social media platform, but I don’t see it yet).
I also quit using Google as a search engine or Google Chrome as a browser a long time ago. By the way, Google trackers are embedded in millions of websites and other sites around the world. Unless you use something like the program I will describe momentarily, you are being tracked and archived by Google pretty much every time you are on the internet.
Not everyone is quite so nefarious. Apple has set some good standards and protocols to protect users on Apple programs and on third party apps sold on the Apple App store. They announced this week more security and privacy enhancements coming on their browser, Safari, in the Fall. More on that a bit later. There are worrisome stories about their cooperation with the Chinese government. Not a perfect record by any means, but way better than most.
Behold, A Good News Story
A few years ago, I heard about a new start-up that offered a different approach to a search engine/browser. Its name is DuckDuckGo. With a name like that, they at least merited checking out. I am glad I did.
They started as an idea in 2008, developed it over a couple of years, working out of one guy’s basement. They stood up the company in 2010 and immediately starting doing good work, including sharing their revenue with good causes, even in the early years before they made a profit. By 2014, they were quite profitable and popular and have never looked back.
Still a small outfit – less than 150 employees – but getting over 3 BILLION hits a month and contributing real cash to worthy causes. Hard to know for sure without tracking, but estimates are that about 50 million people use it.
So, What Makes Them Different?
No memory! When you go on most search engines, what you look for is tracked and amalgamated with other data about you. This information is used to send you targeted information. Ever look up, say, shoes on Google and the next day shoe adds appear on your browser? Not a coincidence. This is targeted advertising built around stored data on you.
Duck, on the other hand, looks at what you input in your search or browsing, links that up with their advertisers’ data, and has ads appear right there while you are searching. When you leave, it all disappears. Neither they nor their advertisers have any data on you in any form. Every time you log in, it is like the first time. Nice. Like shopping in the movie Ground Hog Day.
People in the industry thought this would never make it as a business model. But it surely has. DuckDuckGo says that, yes, they likely could make a bit more on the Google model, but this approach is very profitable, thank you, and does no harm. Letting go of some marginal profit for that good outcome seems reasonable to them. Me, too.
And, interestingly, the other model of using all that personal information is not only unpopular with people at large; companies that use it are beginning to have serious doubts how effective it is anyway.
The Future is Here
DuckDuckGo may well be the model of the future. Just this week Apple announced new changes coming to its Safari browser that sound a lot like the Duck model. Apple and DuckDuckGo already have cooperative agreements. Good trends to hear; may the model spread.
If you are interested in learning a bit more, I commend their website to you; it is an interesting read, worth clicking the various tabs telling you about the company, their products, etc. to you. https://duckduckgo.com/about
If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, I invite you to do two things:
(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here. If you wish to share COMMENTS anonymously, make the last word in your comment “PRIVATE.” I will assure your privacy via anonymity.
(2) Share the word about this post with friends and colleagues. Share a link in your emails and social media posts (https://agentsofreason.com). Let’s grow our circle.