In Google’s antitrust trial about being the dominant search engine for the web, Bloomberg discovered that Apple considered and then rejected the switch to DuckDuckGo from Google. Interestingly, during this trial, we also learned that Apple discussed buying the Microsoft Bing search engine in 2018 and 2020 but ultimately scrapped this idea.
About the time Apple was planning to acquire Bing, it was also holding meetings with DuckDuckGo’s CEO Gabriel Weinberg about making his search engine the default for private browsing mode. When this mode is activated, Safari doesn’t track websites users visit or keep a history of what a person has accessed.
“We were talking about it, I thought they would launch it,” Weinberg said, noting that Apple had integrated several of DuckDuckGo’s other privacy technologies into Safari. “Multiple times, we’ve gotten integrations all the way through the finish line. Really, almost everything we’ve pitched except for search,” reported Bloomberg.
On the other hand, John Giannandrea, head of search in 2018, said that, to his knowledge, “Apple hadn’t considered switching to DuckDuckGo.” The publication notes:
“The motivating factor for setting DuckDuckGo as the default for private browsing was an assumption” that it would be more private, Giannandrea testified. Because DuckDuckGo relies on Bing for its search information, it also likely provides Microsoft with some user information, he said, which led him to believe that DuckDuckGo’s “marketing about privacy is somewhat incongruent with the details.”
While it’s important always to raise questions on how private an app/experience actually is, DuckDuckGo has advocated for privacy and has always been transparent about how it works, even when it got caught in a controversy giving Microsoft permission for trackers in 2022.
On the other hand, Apple advocates for privacy as a “fundamental human right.” Still, when it could choose between Google and DuckDuckGo, it opted for the billion dollars it received to maintain Google as its primary search engine.
As Cupertino brags about using on-device Siri, on-device machine learning, and more, the next big step would be to be more open about giving users a real choice when selecting their browser. Even if Apple maintains Google as the main choice, if users had the option to choose their favorite browser the first time they opened Safari, this could make tons of users more aware that there’s a more private, secure way to use the internet without being spied on.
I think Safari still has much to improve, and even though Apple is always making the browser more secure, a new search engine would show the company is moving in the right direction. That said, you can still choose DuckDuckGo or another search engine as your preferred choice as long as you go to Settings, open Safari, tap on Search Engine, and choose between Google, Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Ecosia.