DuckDuckGo’s search results feature more misinformation than Google’s

Search engines are the de facto arbiters of importance. Should they do something about online conspiracies?

A fallen ducky, isolated on white background with copy space.

Conspiracy theorists, including big names like Joe Rogan and Ben Shapiro, are reportedly leaving Google behind for greener, less-moderated pastures like DuckDuckGo. The DuckDuckGo search engine emphasizes user privacy and allows users to avoid the filter bubble of personalized search results that Google is so known for.

Despite the public support from figures associated with the right wing, DuckDuckGo is different from services like social media site Parler and video platform Rumble that have intentionally aligned with the far-right. DuckDuckGo remains focused on privacy, not politics. But is turning the other cheek a viable internet strategy in 2022?

What the duck? — When The New York Times reviewed top search results for more than 30 conspiracy theories and right-wing topics, sources that advanced conspiracies were more buried on Google and more prominent on both DuckDuckGo and Bing.

The findings suggest that Google’s algorithms are less likely to feature misinformation than Bing’s algorithm (also used by DuckDuckGo), which matches the results of other recent studies. Links in DuckDuckGo’s search results are generated from more than 400 sources, and information is “proxied through [the company’s] servers so it stays completely anonymous,” according to DuckDuckGo’s policy.

In a statement to The New York Times, DuckDuckGo said it condemned “acts of disinformation” and that it was also studying ways to limit the spread of misinformation and disinformation. DuckDuckGo said it “regularly” flagged problematic search terms with Bing so they could be addressed.

Duck it! — Launched by Gabriel Weinberg in February 2008, DuckDuckGo started as a privacy-focused Google search alternative. It’s vehemently opposed to SEO hacks and does not show search results from blatant content farms. While its search results algorithm isn’t entirely clear, it remains quite transparent about its practices regarding personal data. As of November 2021, it was averaging 101 million daily searches, and The New York Times says it holds 3 percent of the United States search market.

Another thing that sets DuckDuckGo apart is its handy bang operators, which allow you to refine your search to specific sites (there are 13,000+ sites to choose from, and if that’s not enough, you can submit requests for more to be added). For example, if you’re looking for results specifically from the Monster Hunter subreddit, you can add “!mhr” to your search. Other useful bangs can limit search results to sites like Amazon, Stack Overflow, or Wikipedia. It’s fantastic, and the techniques to refine Google searches aren’t nearly as advanced.

In light of the frightening amount of user data that Google collects, DuckDuckGo is a welcome alternative for the privacy-minded internet user— it’s not just tinfoil hat-wearing keyboard warriors. That said, it seems appropriate to bring up a tired refrain: don’t believe everything you read online.