Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

March 6, 2017

Gabriel Weinberg is the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, a popular and highly polished search engine that respects your privacy. Gabriel was recently kind enough to grant me an interview in which we discussed the state of online privacy.

DuckDuckGo has made its reputation on the fact that it is a search engine that respects users’ privacy. Is it fair to assume, therefore, that privacy matters to you? And why?

Yes, I believe that in modern society, privacy should be a fundamental right, alongside others like freedom of speech and press.

What do you consider to be the main threats to privacy for ordinary internet users at this moment?

Digital technology is obviously making its way into more parts of our lives, and our data is quickly becoming more and more valuable, both to us and to others. The main threat is that there are no currently well-defined legal limits to online tracking, and without them, companies and governments become increasingly intrusive to get access to this valuable personal data. We already put legal limits on financial, medical, military, transportation, telecommunications and agriculture technology. Why not online tracking?

DuckDuckGo BillboardWide_cc

We already put legal limits on financial, medical, military, transportation, telecommunications and agriculture technology. Why not online tracking?

Politicians these days are very keen on talking about a privacy/security trade-off, and the need to find the right “balance” between these priorities. Personally, I consider this to be a false dichotomy promoted for political ends. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Yes, I believe that is a false dichotomy. Another way to define the debate is strong vs weak encryption. Strong encryption is the primary thing protecting our sensitive information like banking, medical, and even government records. Weak encryption, by contrast, enables these massive data breaches we keep hearing about. I believe if you weaken encryption, you weaken security in the process.

“The UK has just legalized the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy” (to quote Edward Snowden). Do you think this is the direction the world, in general, is heading?

No, I do not think mass surveillance is inevitable. I think we can decide to put reasonable limits on online tracking and make privacy a fundamental right. These decisions are happening country by country, however, and are dependent on the interest of the citizenry in question. Snowden presciently realized this need for public debate and engendered it. Now we need to continue it. In my experience when people fully understand the issues, a large percentage of people want to defend their privacy rights.

I think we agree that, with the current highly unpredictable political situation in the US, who knows what the future will bring? But if you were to gaze into the crystal ball, would you be willing to share any speculations?

Like in the UK, I believe in any democracy, political situations eventually follow the will of the citizenry, if it is strong enough. In the US, increasing percentages of people are concerned with online tracking, and I believe this will eventually result in regulation putting limits on it. I’m not sure about a timeline, however.

DuckDuckGo CEO with Office

No, I do not think mass surveillance is inevitable. I think we can decide to put reasonable limits on online tracking and make privacy a fundamental right

There is a lot of bad news these days when it comes to online privacy and security, but do you also see any positive trends?

Yes, over the past few years since the Snowden revelations, increasing numbers of people have become more educated on online privacy and security issues, and have started having real concerns and are taking real actions as a result. In a PEW study, for example, 40% of Americans said they would like their search provider not to track their search activity.

You disagreed with a recent article of mine, in which I said that being a US company is bad for privacy. Would you like to explain why I am wrong?

Yes please. DuckDuckGo doesn’t collect or share any personal information. That’s our privacy policy in a nutshell. US privacy actions – like NSLs – are designed to extract existing business records. In our case, we have none to share because we do not collect or share personal information, and so these actions and related laws do not apply to us. The belief that the US government can force any US company to do anything is just false, as evidenced in the recent Apple vs FBI case.

More generally, as you point out above, the UK and many other countries arguably have just as bad privacy laws and other legal precedents as the US when applied to a particular case. Any particular case really depends on the specific situation and detailed parameters involved, often referred to more generally as a threat assessment. In these assessments, as stated above, DuckDuckGo is in a different class than other companies because we simply do not collect or share personal information. That is, something like email, where there are existing business records, is very different than search, where we do not have any personal information to share.

What does the future hold for DuckDuckGo? Do you have any plans in the pipeline that you would like to share?

We’re coming up on being around for a decade! Most broadly, we want to continue to make progress on our vision of raising the standard of trust online and on our current mission of being the world’s most trusted search engine. In that context, we would like to, over time, help you more to protect your privacy online, though right now I don’t have any particular announcements.

DuckDuckGo Office_cc

DuckDuckGo is in a different class than other companies because we simply do not collect or share personal information

What are your top privacy tips for our readers?

There are indeed a few solutions that grant you partial relief from the pains of online tracking. First, switch your search engine, email and other major services where your personal information is heavily tracked to good private alternatives, like DuckDuckGo for search. Second, add EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere plugin to your browser, which will encrypt web site connections where possible. Third, add EFF’s Privacy Badger plugin to your browser, which blocks third-party trackers. These three simple changes will seamlessly and significantly reduce your digital footprint.

So what is it with ducks?

Like most people on the internet, I like cute and friendly things!

Douglas Crawford
May 23rd, 2017

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

10 responses to “Gabriel Weinberg DuckDuckGo CEO Interview

  1. Sorry I forgot to say the ad was for a VPN.

    Also what is an EFF, not everyone understands Acronyms,most times the spell the complete thing, then use the Acronym. A google search said it could mean Fu*K or Electronic Frontier Foundation etc, etc.

    1. Hi again John.

      Well, we are As for acronyms… well, I posted the text as it was written by Gabriel. I have now added hyperlinks to some of the things he mentions in order to help readers such as yourself. I think this improves the article, so thank for bringing the issue to my attention.

  2. Not happy that I got a pop up ad whilst reading this about DuckDuckgo.
    when I read choice info I dont expect to be advertised at.

    I will complain to Choice

    1. Hi John,

      Let’s be honest, none of us really like ads, but this website costs money to run, and staff like myself need to earn a wage. And inconvenient for you as it might be, without advertising to help pay the bills, this website would not (and could not exist). Sorry. There is nothing to prevent you, however, from installing an ad-blocker, since they annoy you so much (BestVPN in fact encourages readers to use such technology, and in no way attempts to block their use on this site).

    2. John,

      This is not content written/provided by Choice – Choice simply linked to it because it is interestinng and obviously in their opinion worth a mention. This is an independent website and as such needs to be supported somehow.

      1. Hi Ory,

        Well, this is an interview that Gabriel kindly agreed to do for 4Choice. The answers are his, but the questions are mine.

  3. I have just changed over to DuckDuckGo and I am finding it as good as Google. And
    obviously better because of no tracking. I am having trouble getting rid of every
    piece of Google with an error coming up, and having to use a Google uninstall tool
    to do so which seems to me to be ridiculous. Other than re installing Windows 10.
    At the moment I am very satisfied with DuckDuckGO

  4. These articles are very informative for this point in my use of the Internet. They are most appreciated as being in my seventies I need to know what is going on. We are exposed to all types of frauds, cons and falsehoods. Not sure if there are any replies to comments but ,if so, would like a more detailed explanation on the last paragraph re privacy tips. ie how do I switch my email and other major services. Thank you for the article. Have just switched to DuckDuck Go.

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