Google Denies DuckDuckGo’s Claim It’s Following You When Incognito Is On

Two popular search engines are duking it out with regards to privacy-based searching. DuckDuckGo suggests that Google tracks users to deliver personalized search results, even when incognito mode is turned on. However, Google disputes this, saying their rival’s research methods are flawed.

DuckDuckGo maintains that Google uses your personal information – including search history, browsing history, and online purchases – to personalize the search results that you see when using the search engine. They refer to this as “Google’s filter bubble.”

“These editorialized results are informed by the personal information Google has on you (like your search, browsing, and purchase history) and puts you in a bubble based on what Google’s algorithms think you’re most likely to click on,” explained DuckDuckGo in a blog post.

One research result leading them to make this claim is that in their privacy research study, participants saw search results that were unique to each person. Additionally, enabling incognito mode didn’t make a difference on the results from one person to the next.

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“Private browsing mode and being logged out of Google offered very little filter bubble protection. These tactics simply do not provide the anonymity most people expect. In fact, it’s simply not possible to use Google search and avoid its filter bubble,” concluded the blog post.

They went on to say, “We saw that when randomly comparing people’s private modes to each other, there was more than double the variation than when comparing someone’s private mode to their normal mode.” They feel their research shows that “Google tailors search results regardless of browsing mode.”

Of particular concern are political topics that are searched. DuckDuckGo looked at how this may have impacted the 2012 presidential election, as a Wall Street Journal article claimed Google “often customizes the results of people who have recently searched for ‘Obama’ – but not those who have recently searched for ‘Romney.’ ”

This is something that has come into play recently as well. Donald Trump criticized Google saying they may have used their search results to show preference to more liberal voices, but Google denies this claim as well as DuckDuckGo’s.

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After DuckDuckGo’ research results were published, Google disputed the findings, stating that the research methods were flawed.

“This study’s methodology and conclusions are flawed since they are based on the assumption that any difference in search results are based on rationalization,” insisted Google.

“That is simply not true. In fact, there are a number of factors that can lead to slight differences, including time and location which this study doesn’t appear to have controlled for effectively.”

With these differences of opinion between Google and DuckDuckGo, two rivals, it doesn’t seem we’ll find out the truth to this anytime soon. It seems each user needs to decide for themselves what they are most comfortable with in terms of privacy and using incognito mode. DuckDuckGo’s claim is not irrefutable evidence, yet Google hasn’t been able to prove them wrong either.

Do you choose to believe Google or are you siding with DuckDuckGo and deciding to not use the search behemoth based on what they have concluded? Let us know your thoughts on Google and DuckDuckGo being at odds over whether or not Google tracks you while using incognito mode.

4 comments

  1. I for one have stopped using Google for a search engine since 2014. I prefer DuckDuckGo, and have yet to find that they are tracking my searches. And that’s not using their Icognito Mode. I think Google has lost sight of what they wanted to be, they’ve become political, and biased and that’s the number one reason why I won’t use their search engine anymore. Granted I still have a GMail account but I don’t really use it for more than just staying in touch with family. Other than that? I’m trying to remove myself from as much social media as possible as its become too much of a flame-war-driven battlefield. From transgender opinions, to “mansplaining”…its all too much and while the concept of social media might have been noble. what its actually turned into just makes me sick. So let the “children” logon and throw words and insults at each other, I’ll find better ways to occupy my time. Like learning how to program in C++ and Python….learning the Linux command line for SysAdmin job positions etc.

    • Google, like Microsoft and Facebook, wants to be in control of EVERYTHING or at least as much as they can.

  2. Google can stand on their collective heads and spit wooden nickels and they deny and protest till they’re blue in the face but I will believe DuckDuckGo. Google is known for hoovering up any and all information in any way they can. Therefore, DDG accusations ring true.

    I use Firefox as my browser. FF uses Google’s Safe Browsing software which means that every site address I enter in the address bar is checked against approved sites list on Google’s servers. Each such query is recorded by Google allowing them to track me to every site I visit. Luckily the access to Google’s Safe Browsing servers can be turned of by editing Firefox’s “about:config” settings.

  3. I use DuckDuckGo as my default search engine in Firefox, but I think Google’s counter-argument is probably true: the variations observed in Incognito mode may be due to time and localization. But I, personally, really like DuckDuckGo’s approach: they let me decide whether or not I want them to use my location as a filter and that’s what Google should be going for if they care about their users.

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