??‍♀️ Privacy vs Convenience: My Move Away from Google Revisited

This Ask Metafilter thread about some recent changes to Google’s search results has me thinking about a post I wrote six years ago. I moved away from Google for email, search, and document creation, and I offered suggestions on how you might make a similar move. At the time I recommended using DuckDuckGo, something I still recommend, but not always as enthusiastically as I have in the past.

There’s a simple reason for that: after almost six years of nearly daily use both at home and in the workplace, I still find myself using Google as a fallback search engine1, primarily because of how I use search engines. When I turn to a search engine, I’m primarily trying to answer a question or choose between the best options for a product I’m interested in buying. The kinds of results that these two search companies produce can be very different, and I’m not just talking about how Google (now) includes favicons in search results. Let’s take a look at a few screenshots.

A screenshot of Google search results that highlights Google's featured answers

In this search, I was trying to learn about the differences between acrylic gouache and regular gouache, and Google delivered the results right away. It even provided featured links to websites for additional information in an accordion beneath the most relevant search result.

DuckDuckGo search results for the difference between gouache and acrylic gouache

DuckDuckGo returned a search result that wasn’t relevant to my question even as it offered a direct link to the specific question I asked. The answer I needed was second in the list, which may seem like a small thing. Over time, not having the most relevant result presented first adds up and leads to a general dissatisfaction with their results, hence my reliance on Google as a fallback search.

I asked folks on Twitter what the balance was between privacy and convenience, and while I didn’t get a direct answer to that question, one user told me that they switched back to Google because of DuckDuckGo’s unreliable/unrelated search results.

User tweet about their problems with DuckDuckGo's search results

“DuckDuckGo has mysteriously gotten worse for image searches for me. Seems like it declined about 3-4 months ago”, they told me. Another Twitter follower said that they’d noticed a similar decline in quality.

I don’t know what’s going on over at DuckDuckGo, but I hope whatever it is they’re able to right things very quickly. I think it’s important for consumers to have options when it comes to search results, particularly if a search engine company is dedicated to returning results to lesser-known sites that still provide useful information. Until then, I’ll begrudgingly continue to use Google (in private browsing mode) as a secondary search engine.

  1. I always open a private browsing session to do this ’cause I still don’t trust Google.