Google tracks you. We don’t: Interview with DuckDuckGo Founder

It is an open secret that Google tracks all your search activity which can be used to uniquely identify you. . Another secret which most of us may not know  is the use of filter bubbles by  search engines  to display results, and ranking them  based on our search and click history. This enables them to  show us  information which we agree with instead of what we are looking for, in the process isolating us in our own cultural and ideological bubbles.

Hailed by ‘TIME’ magazine as  ”one of the most appealing Google alternatives to date“,  DuckDuckGo is a search engine which does not track you or create filter bubbles around you and provides better instant answers.

YourStory  spoke to serial entrepreneur Gabriel Weinberg, CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo, who is also an angel investor, about privacy, DuckDuckGo and startups.

YS: What sparked your interest in computers?

GW: My parents had some early personal computers for both business and pleasure that initially sparked my interest, including being connected to the early internet before the web. I ran my own BBS and did stuff like that, as well as some casual programming.

 

Serial Entrepreneur and Angel Investor Gabriel Weinberg, - Founder and CEO, DuckDuckGo

Serial Entrepreneur and Angel Investor Gabriel Weinberg, – Founder and CEO, DuckDuckGo

 

YS: What was the motivation behind starting DuckDuckGo?

GW: I started my first internet company right out of college. DuckDuckGo is my fourth to 10th company depending on how you count. So I learned a bit before doing this one, thankfully.

I didn’t set out to build a search engine, but instead wanted to work on a number of projects I found interesting. After doing that for about a year I saw a path to a better search experience involving less spam and more instant answers. I  just decided to build an alpha version, put it out there, and see what happens.

 

YS: You seem to be riding against the wave.  Could you tell us about the hurdles you encountered?

GW: The biggest obstacle has been constructing a search experience that is both similar enough so people can switch to it easily but differentiated enough that people have a compelling reason to switch to it. We’ve tried to focus on things the big guys can’t do easily for various reasons (usually not technical), including real privacy, broader instant answers, and less spam/clutter/ads.

 

YS: How are you making sure that you remain true to your fundamentals in the years ahead? .

GW: We had an interesting  discussion on this sometime ago[V1] .

I would say there are two reasons for us to stay true to our promise.  First, we are legally bound by our privacy policy and could go to jail if it was found to be willfully violated. Second, our entire reputation is stacked on our privacy policy and willfully violating it would ruin us.

We literally do not store personally identifiable user data, like IP addresses, so if some entity were to get a hold of all our data, it would not be useful to them since it is all truly anonymous.

 

YS: You write a lot about startups and have a successful exit as well, what according to you is the single biggest mistake people make  while working on their product?

GW: Not focusing on Traction.

I’m writing a book on this subject with my co-author Justin Mares. It will be launched in the next few weeks and users can sign up to be notified here: http://tractionbook.com/

 

YS: Looking at the number of incubators and accelerators coming up, they have become  kind of startup schools. What parameters should one take care of while applying to an incubator/accelerator?

GW: You have to assess what your goals are for applying, which could vary widely. For example, is it access to funding, mentors, structure, some combination or something else entirely? Once you know your primary goal you can more easily stack what each program has to offer against it.

 

YS: What according to you makes a startup interesting and worth investing your time on?

GW: I try to lay this out at http://ye.gg/angel, but basically I’m looking to be personally involved in something I find interesting and that has the capacity to make some significant change in the world.

 

YS: Three lessons according to you which lead to traction?

GW: 1. Pursue traction in parallel with product development.

2. Spend enough time pursuing traction.

3. Take a systematic approach to getting traction.

 

You can read more about his views on traction on his blog.

Aditya Bhushan Dwivedi

Aditya Bhushan Dwivedi

A Software Engineer by education, Aditya has been a Workshop Consultant with The Times of India and later on was a Cloud developer with CSC India Pvt. Ltd. Apart from coding, he has a keen interest in analyzing stock market movements and often forgets the outer world once he starts reading. You can follow him on Google+ and Twitter at @adi_bhushan. You can reach out to him at aditya@yourstory.com".