Apple brings in DuckDuckGo

As revealed among Apple’s new products earlier this month, iOS 8 for the iPhone 6 and OS X 10 (Yosemite) for desktop will be adding some additional privacy features to their Safari web browser. In a preview page for Yosemite, Apple includes a blurb that reads: “Safari now gives you more control over your privacy on the web… You can also now search the web using DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t track you.” You may be asking, what in the world is DuckDuckGo? And you would not be alone.

DuckDuckGo is a new search engine that famously touts itself as “the search engine that doesn’t track you.” It goes against the grain of Google and Bing that track their users’ activity to target advertising and to acquire data for their search algorithms. While few Internet users today have heard of it or used it, DuckDuckGo’s numbers are growing and will continue to do so thanks to this publicity from Apple.

Some bloggers are speculating about how DuckDuckGo got its way into Safari’s settings. Becoming integrated into a browser’s settings is a lucrative position. Google currently has a contract to be the default browser on Apple devices through 2015, probably to the tune of $1 billion per year, and surely rakes in a fortune from ads on Apple devices.

So did DuckDuckGo pony up? I doubt it. The way I see it, Apple has other vested interests at play: 1) to situate itself as a privacy-conscious brand, and 2) to eventually promote an alternative to Google, its chief competitor.

Internet privacy is a hot topic in today’s culture, and, largely, a discussion for another time. But it would suffice to say that there is a demand in the American marketplace for tech companies to take a stand for Internet privacy. Neither Apple nor Google nor Microsoft has a stellar reputation in that regard, yet. So among the tech giants, there is still an opportunity to carve out some market share by becoming a champion of Internet privacy. Apple is showing that privacy is a key component of its new operating systems, and lending a hand to DuckDuckGo transfers some of that “privacy capital” from DuckDuckGo to Apple.

And it should be self-evident that Apple has been wanting for some time to stop sending referrals to its primary competitor, Google, as recently evidenced by Apple’s removal of YouTube and Google Maps from iOS. Ever since Google acquired Android back in 2005, Google has virtually been Apple’s sole competition in the smartphone market, and it must pain Apple to send so much business towards Google through Safari’s search queries. Even though Safari users are at liberty to change their settings to another search engine, the only options today are Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Being the only one of today’s three operating system giants to not also offer its own search engine service, Apple is stuck between a rock and a hard place and has to refer its users to a competitor’s search engine, either Google’s or Microsoft’s (Yahoo is intertwined with Microsoft’s Bing).

But things may change now that Apple has taken notice of DuckDuckGo and has added it into Safari’s search engine settings mix. By simply offering DuckDuckGo as a fourth search option, Apple both gives a nod to Internet privacy supporters and opens the door for Safari users to conduct their Web searches without filling the coffers of Google or Microsoft.

When Apple’s contract with Google runs out, could we see Apple set Safari’s default search engine to DuckDuckGo? Would Apple even give DuckDuckGo the coveted “default” status for free, if it would take away some of Google’s competitive edge and give even more credence towards their Internet privacy strategy? I would not be surprised if they decide to do so.

UPDATE: DuckDuckGo has now been blocked in China, presumably over DuckDuckGo’s unwillingness to comply with filtering regulations and/or track the activity of its users. Could this be China’s preparation for the Chinese release of the iPhone 6 coming in early 2015?

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