DecryptedTech

Wednesday06 July 2022

DuckDuckGo Makes Changes after Increased Pressure from US Lawmakers


Reading time is around minutes.

DuckDuckGo, the privacy-focused search engine and browser company, has come under a lot of negative press recently and now are facing pressure from the US government. They have already been labeled as a search engine for “conspiracy theorists” by many media outlets despite not really catering to any one group of people. The reality of the search engine is that it is attractive to people that are not happy with increased data collection from groups like Google, Facebook, and many, many others. A benefit of this is that, until now, DuckDuckGo has also not altered or censored search results based on current political motivations or narratives.

Most people that have used the service will tell you that the results are not all that different than what you get elsewhere, you just also get items that have been removed or downranked by the other big search engines. Many of these are downranks are not just based on illegal content but come from pressure from governmental sources.

Well, it seems that now that DuckDuckGo has become so popular, pressure has been applied in the right ways and areas that they have agreed to downrank “disinformation” as well. The announcement came as a tweet from CEO and Founder Gabriel Weinberg;

“Like so many others I am sickened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the gigantic humanitarian crisis it continues to create. #StandWithUkraine️

At DuckDuckGo, we've been rolling out search updates that down-rank sites associated with Russian disinformation.”

This has not set well with users of the service. Many felt that the service was not only about protecting privacy, but about getting all the legal information when searching for a topic. The search engine and privacy tools were seen as a complete divergence from the data collection and censorship that was happening with the big tech companies. Some point to an older tweet from with a quote from Weinberg about unbiased (non-tampered with) search results. The tweet seems to be very counter to what is happening. It also seems to fall into the current popular push to remove items that others do not like or that are counter to current talking points and narratives.

““[W]hen you search, you expect unbiased results, but that’s not what you get on Google,” @matthewde_silva quotes @yegg.

You can revoke Google's access to search & location histories, but the only true way to protect yourself is to leave Google.”

This does not mean that DuckDuckGo is collecting data on their users. It just means that they are looking for particular information (in this case from Russian State media) and reducing its ranking so that it either does not appear in search results or is so far down people do not see it. It is very similar to how Big Tech companies shadow ban people that that cannot actively ban or censor. This type of move opens them up to more pressure to change how they show results for other topics and likely comes with some added pressure from Governmental sources.
As a private company, DuckDuckGo can do this if they want to, but it will result in the loss of users (which is also their right). It also becomes a very slippery slope when private companies cave to pressure from governments and start blocking information that they do not like (again not talking about anything illegal). People really should be able to make up their own minds and view all of the information available on a topic and providers should be open to and able to provide that instead of shaping the information how they (or someone else) want it.

In the end there is always going to be wrong information and terrible opinions on any topic. You can look up just about anything on the internet and find dozens of opinions on it. It does not matter what the topic is, it is simply how the internet works. It is also a known fact that every country in the world paints themselves as the virtuous ones while outside forces are either allies or enemies. That is a fact, and nothing is going to change it, not even removing all foreign information and non-sanctioned publications will remove that simple fact. It would be quite the opposite as by removing all “non-sanctioned” information you are not doing any better than the group putting out the propaganda and misinformation in the first place. In this case the US, EU, and other “free” countries are doing the same thing that authoritarian groups do, they control what can and cannot be read, heard, etc.

I do not support the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I think it is wrong and is propped up on a stack of BS that is very high. I also do not think Ukraine was a virtuous country before the invasion, but that does not give Russia any right to invade. It is a mess and a humanitarian crisis in progress. It needs to stop, and Russia needs (in my opinion) to leave and pay reparations for the invasion. However, no amount of down-ranking, fact (opinion) checkers, censorship, or other big tech moves to shape information around the conflict is going to make a bit of difference. This has more to do with controlling information than any real impact to the Russian invasion and that is the part that annoys me.

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