The latest Google Chrome web browser update has a pleasant surprise in store for users who value their privacy. The chromium engine under the hood of the browser has been tweaked to add DuckDuckGo to the default search engine list. Chrome 73.0.3683.75 was released earlier this week, with a total of 60 security fixes listed in the official Chrome team notes. What those release notes didn't mention, however, was the privacy fix that Google had made available. Needless to say, as the update started to roll out and those of us who inhabit the security and privacy world got a chance to poke around in it, the DuckDuckGo inclusion was revealed. Not everyone will get the chance to switch to DuckDuckGo as it has only been added as a preferred search option in 60 countries. These do include the U.K. and U.S. though.
What is DuckDuckGo and why should I switch to it?
What are the downsides of using DuckDuckGo?
The positives and negative can both be summed up in just three words: it isn't Google. While the privacy implications are pretty clear, what about the quality of the searching? This is where you need to balance the whole risk and reward thing. You don't get a personalized search with DuckDuckGo, it can't do that as it doesn't store your search history or allow you to create an account. For most users, most of the time, I would argue this really doesn't matter. Day to day searching compares relatively well with Google search results. Maybe not as many hits per search, but who scrolls past the first handful of pages anyway? The top page results are generally much the same as those Google returns, you still get news items top of page and an explanatory box to the right and you still get quality results.
How to switch to DuckDuckGo in Chrome
Switching to DuckDuckGo as your default search engine really couldn't be much easier, truth be told. First, make sure you have the latest version of Chrome by clicking the three dots top right of the browser window and selecting Help|About Google Chrome which will force Chrome to update to the latest available version. Now go back and select settings from the drop down menu. Scroll down the options until you find the search engine category and then use the drop down menu next to 'Search engine used in the address bar' to select DuckDuckGo from the very short list of options. Finally, select the 'Manage search engines' option and click on the three dots next to DuckDuckGo and click on 'Make default.'
What do industry experts think?
Felix Rosbach, product manager at data protection specialists comforte AG told me "The growing number of individuals using privacy oriented search engines like DuckDuckGo shows that people are becoming more and more concerned about their data privacy. The more we care about protecting our own data, the bigger our impact will be on how companies deal with the topic." Not everyone is so sure though. Professor John Walker, who sits on the advisory board of the research center in cyber security at the University of Kent, says that notwithstanding DuckDuckGo being synonymous with privacy "here once again we see one of the big platform players attempting to infer they are taking steps to mend their ways by papering over the creaks with leverage of a third party solution." Professor Walker reminds us that only last week Google also suggesting installing Windows 10 in light of a Chrome vulnerability being used alongside a Windows 7 one. "If this is about reducing their exposure to external pressures of governance" he concludes "it is too little, and far too late." Ian Thornton-Trump, head of security at AmTrust International, does think that this is a "genuine realization that the Google search brand and social media companies are largely responsible for promoting divisive messages and having evidence of cavalier approaches to protection of private data." Trump went on to tell me that he sees this "as a gesture, maybe even a hedge, against future impactful regulation."