DuckDuckGo, the privacy first search engine, will be a default choice on Android devices from March after pressure on Google from EU regulators. But does this represent a significant moment for challengers of GAFA and encourage a potential shift in user behaviour?

With data-privacy continuing to be high on the new agenda. Big tech companies are falling over themselves to prove they can responsibly handle user data without 3rd party regulation. Their empires have been built on the collection of vast swathes of user data to aid targeted advertising. Depending on your point of view, this has either provided users with increasingly relevant, free and useful internet experiences or contributed to an ever-murky advertising ecosystem where the value of user experience has been relegated in favour of extracting more ad value per person, at all costs.

The reality is both of those things. But continued negative media coverage around the use of personal data has meant that the latter has bred greater feelings of annoyance and distrust.  Concerns over the ability of tech companies to know the more intimate details of your habits and behaviours have raised questions. There are plenty of stats that point to the majority of users being more concerned with their online privacy than ever before.

This represents a slither of an opportunity for tech challengers who put user-privacy at the forefront of their offering. Enter DuckDuckGo. Founded in 2008 it made the decision to not track user search history in 2010 and has made this it’s USP since then. Its position is now starting to bear some fruit. In 2019 it was the only US search engine to manage positive growth in market share.

Verizon also launched OneSearch, another privacy centric search engine that doesn’t track, store or sell user data. So even major challengers to Google are probing opportunities for potential shifts in behaviour.

And challengers to Google are now also being given an extra leg-up because of scrutiny over anti-competitive behaviour. Last year Google were fined a record 1.5 billion EUR for breaching EU antitrust rules.  One of the results of that case is that Google has had to provide users with options on which search engine they make their default choice on android devices. For a search engine growing as quickly as DuckDuckGo this is good news. However, they still don’t believe this goes far enough and are pushing for Google to change their choice mechanism to give users more context

The important point DuckDuckGo want to make explicit to users in this selection is that they don’t track you! With android having over 50% of UK market share, this is a big opportunity to increase user awareness of their offering.

Of course, the likes of Google are recognising their need to address privacy concerns. But their approach is one that requires balance. Much of their revenue stream is built on their use of user data and they need to protect this. So, they must at once increase user-controls over personal data to appease dissenters but also persuade them and the public that sharing it is contributing to better experiences and vital in the maintenance of a free internet. And for all the survey data suggesting people are more concerned with data privacy, actions speak louder than words. Google have still maintained 92% global search engine market share over the last 12 months. If users are concerned, it doesn’t appear that they’re too concerned with Google.

Ultimately Google have maintained their search market dominance by consistently providing the best experience for users. They have used data to improve the quality and relevancy of their search results over time. And unless the competition can challenge that, users will often revert back to Google to get the answers to their questions more swiftly and successfully. DuckDuckGo won’t win on privacy issues alone and it must provide users with a comparable or better search experience than Google to seriously challenge long-term. This is a monumental ask. And for all DuckDuckGo’s growth, 1.4% share in the US and 0.6% share in the UK is still nowhere near high enough to warrant real consideration from advertisers.