How does DuckDuckGo make money?

Steven Loeb · August 26, 2022 · Short URL:

The company makes its money from ads which are based on search results and not personal information

Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about their privacy online and how their data is being used: according to a 2019 survey from Pew Research Center, 81% said that the potential risks they face because of data collection by companies outweigh the benefits, and 79% said they were concerned about the way their data is being used.

Those fears are not unfounded; we've all had the experience of searching for something on Google or Facebook, or simply clicking a link, and then seeing an ad for that product on another site. It's hard to not feel like you're being watched, because you are.

DuckDuckGo was designed to be a browser that doesn't feel, for lack of a better word, creepy. It does this by building in privacy protection in the form of tracker blocking, email protection, and web protection, while also not tracking users across the web, unlike companies like Google and Facebook, which, according to DuckDuckGo's research, have hidden trackers on 85% and 36% of websites, respectively. 

"As a result, these two companies have amassed huge data profiles on individuals, which can include interests, past purchases, search, browsing and location history, and much more. This personal data is stored indefinitely and used for invasive targeted advertising that can follow you around the Internet," the company writes. 

DuckDuckGo, by contrast, has been profitable since 2014 "without saving or sharing your search or browsing history when you view our search results or navigate to other websites. We’re proud to have a profitable business model that’s not dependent on exploiting your personal information."

The company make its money from private ads and affiliate partnerships on its search engine. Those search ads on DuckDuckGo are based on the search results page the person is currently viewing, rather than being targeted based on personal information. Those ads are also clearly labeled and take the form of sponsored links that appear adjacent to search results. What that means is that if someone is searching for a product, for example, shoes they will be shown ads for shoes. 

"We are profitable based on these non-profiling search ads alone, though we have always been on the lookout for other ways to reduce our dependence on advertising that are similarly anonymous," the company says.

While those ads are DuckDuckGo's main revenue source, the company also makes money through a non-tracking affiliate partnership with eBay, meaning that if someone visits eBay through DuckDuckGo, and then makes a purchase, the company receives a small commission. 

The company stresses that this is all done anonymously, with no personally identifiable information exchanged between DuckDuckGo and eBay.

"The reason we can do this in an anonymous way with eBay, though not with other retailers, is because eBay runs their own affiliate networks," DuckDuckGo explained.

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