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Online Tracking: Is Everyone Doing It?

Gabriel Weinberg is the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo.
Courtesy of Duck Duck Go
Gabriel Weinberg is the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo.

Today's phrase: "search engines that do not collect personal information."

We Googled it this morning (with the quotation marks) and got one measly hit — a 2012 forum in LinuxQuestions, a message board that explores the open-source operating system.

When the challenge was posed in the forum, nine people responded. Seven made search engine recommendations. Four of those were for the lesser-known , a search engine that states it "does not collect or share personal information."

In light of recent revelations that telecommunications companies, search engines, Web browsers and sites frequently collect and share personal information about their customers with the National Security Agency and other entities, DuckDuckGo tells CNBC that it has seen a 33 percent increase in traffic in the past week.

We contacted Gabriel Weinberg, founder of the Pennsylvania-based DuckDuckGo, and asked him what he thinks about the idea that the NSA and others are purposefully watching the Web activity of individuals.

"Large Web companies generally track people a considerable amount for their own purposes," Weinberg tells NPR. "There is nothing new there. Additionally, they've been compelled to hand over data upon valid court orders for a long time.

"The new piece is that the scope of these court orders may be significantly larger than we thought. To a lot of these companies' credit, they are pushing back on these orders and the constitutionality of them as best they can.

"However, the reality is if it is deemed valid, they have to comply. That's the key difference with DuckDuckGo — we made the choice to just not track people so there is nothing to turn over.

"We think that people generally do not want to be tracked, and if they have choices to switch to private alternatives where they can get both a great experience and great privacy, then they will make the switch."

Other recommendations from the Linux forum: and (nee Clusty).

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.