How to DuckDuckGo out of Google’s shared endorsement adverts

If you use Google+ to ‘like’ something (or +1 in Googletalk), you could soon be helping to advertise it. Google is introducing ‘shared endorsements’, through which the adverts on its site and on thousands of others may include the face and comments of Google users. (If you only use Google to search and don’t log in then don’t worry, this doesn’t apply to you.)

As the Register says, “it sounds about as enticing as going to a pub with your pals to discover all they want to talk about is the products they have bought since you last saw them”. However, it is at least possible (and easy – follow the instructions here) to opt-out before this goes live on 11 November – unlike Facebook’s latest anti-privacy move, meaning that all user profiles can be found through a search.

Even so, Google seems to be following Facebook down the path of privacy reduction. I have been using DuckDuckGo, an alternative search engine, for several months now, and for general search I reckon it is often as good as Google – and is significantly better in terms of user privacy.

Basically, DuckDuckGo is a search engine that does not personalise its results (except in ways the user controls). It doesn’t track users (unlike Google, which saves your searches if you are logged in and retains them based on cookies as well – DuckDuckGo has done well out of the NSA/GCHQ surveillance stories) and it offers standard results, so you are not in a filter bubble – ie, seeing results based on your previous browsing, location, cookies and so on.

I’m a fan of DuckDuckGo, but it’s not perfect. One issue for non-Americans is that a search on something generic can produce lots of American answers. (The top link for ‘football’ on DuckDuckGo is the US NFL. The top link, at least for me, on Google is BBC Sport’s football homepage – although followed by information on Oxford United, based on geolocation, which is an example of filter bubbling.)

However, I am generally more interested in what’s going on in the UK than the US. DuckDuckGo would do well to consider national versions (with the option of switching to the global one, as Google used to offer) – it already owns the obvious domain name. You can get DuckDuckGo to return results focused on your country (doing so for the puts the BBC Sport page top on a football search), but doing this by domain would make it easier.

There are also some specialist searches where Google still has an edge, such as Google News – I use this as one feed for @ImpatientNHS, although Google has let some fairly questionable publications into this – and I remain a fan of Google Fusion Tables. But for general searching, free of tracking, bubbling and the risk of randomly putting your face on an advert, why not give DuckDuckGo a try? Google remains just a click away.

Full disclosure: DuckDuckGo has previously encouraged me to say nice things about it… by putting a little picture of me in a corner of a search on my name that links to this tweet: