After PRISM, private search engine DuckDuckGo breaks 3 million queries

In the wake of the U.S. PRISM scandal, one thing seems clear: more people are researching (and using) websites that are much more privacy friendly. For example, private search engine DuckDuckGo — which launched in 2008 and promises to not track or filter search results for advertising or algorithms — has seen a considerable spike in usage since the scandal went live.

According to its public traffic page, the website usually sees an average of roughly 1.75 million queries by individuals every day, or around 54 million per month (including bot searches). But after the NSA scandal broke, the search engine’s query load increased sharply — finally breaking the 3 million barrier this week and peaking at 3.1 million yesterday. The company is now on target to have an average of 2.2 million queries per day for the month of June, nearly a million more queries per day on average than the same month last year.

That’s a drop in the bucket compared to Google’s 20 billion monthly queries in ComScore’s recent analysis, but DuckDuckGo’s increase in traffic is interesting following the NSA news and the company’s sensitivity to privacy. According to DuckDuckGo’s policy, the company does not keep “search leakage” — bits of private information that slip out with every query that tie the terms to an IP address —  and redirects private information that a website would normally get if a user clicked there directly from search.

It’s worth noting that DuckDuckGo does make money from serving contextual advertising — meaning that relevant ads will pop up after a search is made based on the terms (searching for “puppies” might bring up an ad for dog shampoo). But the lack of cookies or any trailing identifiers mean the ads won’t follow users from site to site.

Because of its privacy settings, DuckDuckGo actually operates as an exit enclave for Tor, an anonymous network that leaves no trail of a user’s browsing. DuckDuckGo has also been vocal in requesting the government to be transparent about the NSA, calling for action alongside Reddit and 4Chan. Of course, Google has already made some waves in that area as well, filing a petition to flex its rights to the First Amendment and release court letters detailing the government’s security measures on citizens.

DuckDuckGo could be getting the benefit of knee-jerk reaction in the wake the NSA scandal, a user’s natural reaction to turn to a website that does out of its way to not collect data. But it’s worth knowing that there are options out there — and many people are willing to take them.