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Cyberservices Ethics Audit Project

Audit: DuckDuckGo (DDG)

There are substantial privacy and civil liberty issues with DuckDuckGo. Here they are spotlighted:

  1. Nefarious History of DDG founder & CEO:

    1. DDG’s founder (Gabriel Weinberg) has a history of privacy abuse, starting with his founding of Names DB, a surveillance capitalist service designed to coerce naive users to submit sensitive information about their friends. (2006)

    The “history” link above refers to a Reddit post rich in accurate facts—verifiable facts. The moderator (trai_dep) added flair to falsely flag the content as “speculative” to cast doubt (to create FUD whilst falsely accusing the other of just that—to project. The pot is calling the kettle black). No counter evidence was given.

    Then over a year later, Reddit censored the post in a manner that suggests a rogue/buggy robot “automatically” filtered it as “spam”. They duck accountability by blaming the bot. Obviously nothing in the post could even remotely be construed as spam. Are we to believe that a robot would censor an old archived post, and no human reviews censorship by some unleashed bot loose in the wild? Anyway, this is why the link is a mirrored WaybackMachine document.

    1. Weinberg’s motivation for creating DDG was not actually to “spread privacy”; it was to create something big, something that would compete with big players, according to an interview between Weinberg and Susan Adams. As a privacy abuser during the conception of DDG (Names Database), Weinberg sought to become a big-name legacy. Privacy is Weinberg’s means (not ends) in that endeavor. Clearly he doesn’t value privacy—he values perception of privacy.
  2. Direct Privacy Abuse:

    1. DDG was caught violating its own privacy policy by issuing tracker cookies, according to Alexander Hanff (CEO of Think Privacy and a data security and ethics expert on staff at Singularity University).

    2. DDG was again caught violating its own privacy policy by fingerprinting browsers. DDG responded not with counter evidence, but simply a plea to trust them.

    3. DDG’s third violation (2021): Microsoft hosts DDG’s service and also supplies Bing search results for the same transaction. This means Microsoft sees both sides of the transaction and can link your IP address (i.e. identity) to your search query that Bing processes. DDG makes this false statement: *“we never share any personal information with any of our partners. The way it works is when we call a partner for information, it is proxied through our servers so it stays completely anonymous. That is, any call to a partner looks to the partner as it is from us and not the user itself, and no user personal information is passed in that process (e.g. their IP address). That way we can build our search result pages using these 100s of partner sources, while still keeping them completely anonymous to you“* (emphasis added). While it may be true that DDG doesn’t transmit users’ IP addresses to Microsoft, Microsoft has already seen users’ IP addresses via Azure. That combination of data given to Microsoft makes DDG’s statement a lie. The MS Azure privacy policy refers us to the general MS privacy policy, which confirms that Microsoft collects IP addresses.

    DDG can change their hosting provider at any time. And they have—they migrated from Amazon AWS to Microsoft. As of the drafting of the article herein, DDG is still MS-hosted. To verify for yourself that DDG is still MS-hosted as you read this, Linux Tor users can run: torsocks whois "$(torsocks dig +tcp +short +time=4 +tries=1 duckduckgo.com @resolver1.opendns.com)"; web users can verify by obtaining DDG’s IP address from digweb and then visit https://ipinfo.io/ .

    1. DDG’s app sends every URL you visit to DDG servers. (discussion).

    2. DDG is currently collecting users’ operating systems and everything they highlight in the search results. (to verify this, simply hit F12 in your browser and select the “network” tab. Do a search with JavaScript enabled. Highlight some text on the screen. Mouseover the traffic rows and see that your highlighted text, operating system, and other details relating to geolocation are sent to DDG. Then change the query and submit. Notice that the previous query is being transmitted with the new query to link the queries together)

    3. When clicking an ad on the DDG results page, all data available in your session is sent to the advertiser, which is why the Epic browser project refuses to set DDG as the default search engine.

    4. DDG blacklisted Framabee, a search engine for the highly respected framasoft.org consortium.

    5. DDG browser extension was discovered to have weakened security by giving the DDG server excessive privileges to execute JavaScript code on any domain. Another bug in the extension leaked data to DDG. DDG fixed it in version 2021.2.3. It’s unclear whether DDG knew about the “bug” and enjoyed the benefits of it until the public discovered it. It’s worth noting that around 2018 a bug/glitch involving favicons that signaled to DDG where they browsed to was spotted. DDG ignored the bug report for a year before fixing it.

  3. Censorship: Some people replace Google with DDG in order to avoid censorship. DDG is not the answer.

    1. DDG is complying with the “celebrity threesome injunction”.
  4. Harmful impact on net neutrality:

    1. DDG attempts to play both sides of the network neutrality fight. DDG donated $50k (as of 2020) to an opponent of net neutrality who ironically calls themselves “TechFreedom”. Then DDG also donated $50k to an opponent of TechFreedom, “Public Knowledge”, who actually calls for “NO rules preventing blocking of website”, yet Public Knowledge blocks Tor users from their own website by issuing a “403 forbidden” error. Public Knowledge intends to coach Congress on “How Interoperability Can Rein In Big Tech”, yet they themselves have broken interoperability with Tor as they make themselves electronically unreachable outside of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Gmail.
  5. CloudFlare: DDG promotes one of the most pernicious privacy abusing tech giants and adversary to the Tor community: CloudFlare Inc. DDG results give high rankings to CloudFlare sites, thus leading users into the largest privacy abusing walled garden on the web.

    Supporting CloudFlare compromises privacy, net neutrality, democracy, and anonymity:

    1. Anonymity: CloudFlare DoS attacks Tor users, causing substantial damage to the Tor network.

    2. Privacy: All CloudFlare sites are surreptitiously MitM’d by design.

    3. Net neutrality: CloudFlare’s attack on Tor users causes access inequality, the centerpiece to net neutrality.

    4. DDG T-shirts are sold using a CloudFlare site, thus surreptitiously sharing all order information (name, address, credit card, etc) with CloudFlare despite their statement at the bottom of the page saying “DuckDuckGo is an Internet privacy company that empowers you to seamlessly take control of your personal information online, without any tradeoffs.”

    5. DDG previously hired CloudFlare to host their spreadprivacy.com blog. It was noticed in 2019, but as of 2021 it’s no longer a CloudFlare site.

    DDG also donated over $186k to a series of privacy-abusing CloudFlare sites run by “Demand Progress”, “Fight for the Future”, and “Access Now”. Despite getting nearly $70k from DDG, FFTF continues to expose their own patrons to the very evil they claim to be fighting. Demand Progress, who received $100k from DDG, posts their claim to “contest concentrated corporate power” directly on their CloudFlare site, as well as the claim that they educate people on “the impacts of corporate power over our economy and democracy” as they “confront corporate bad actors”, all of which is bluntly unaligned with their CloudFlare patronage. Access Now, who received $16k from DDG, also used CloudFlare to block Tor users, hypocritically acting against their own mission to “fight for a free and open internet, advocating for the Net Neutrality principle that internet access should be offered to everyone on a nondiscriminatory basis, without favoring certain websites, applications, or services.” DDG apparently does little inspection on those they donate to, as if they’re merely selecting recipients with names that promote their privacy propaganda strategy to boost user loyalty.

  6. Harmful Partnerships with Adversaries of Privacy Seekers:

    1. DDG gets paid a commission when users visit eBay from DDG. Note that eBay has been caught sending JavaScript that snoops on their own customers by port scanning the LAN and reporting back to eBay. Moreover, eBay encourages payments that traverse PayPal, and PayPal abuses privacy in countless ways.

    2. DDG gets paid a commission when users visit privacy-abuser Amazon.

    DDG also uses AWS to crawl the web, which Amazon profits from. The Amazon partnership triggers substantial ethical issues:

    1. Amazon is making an astronomical investment in facial recognition which will destroy physical travel privacy worldwide.

    2. Amazon uses Ring and Alexa to surveil neighborhoods and the inside of homes.

    3. Amazon paid $195k to fight privacy in CA. (also see http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Campaign/Committees/Detail.aspx?id=1401518&view=late1)

    4. Amazon runs sweat shops, invests in climate denial, etc. The list of non-privacy related harms is too long to list here.

    5. DDG feeds privacy-abuser Microsoft by patronizing the Bing API for search results, using Microsoft’s ad network, using Outlook email service, hiring Microsoft to host DDG’s search site and host DDG’s crawler.

      1. The Dutch government commissioned a study which found Microsoft Office products to have several GDPR violations.

      2. Microsoft finances AnyVision to equip the Israeli military with facial recognition to be used against the Palestinians who they oppress.

      3. Microsoft paid $195k to fight privacy in CA. (also see http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Campaign/Committees/Detail.aspx?id=1401518&view=late1)

      4. DDG hires Microsoft for email service: torsocks dig @ mx duckduckgo.com +tcp | grep -E '^\w' ==> “…duckduckgo-com.mail.protection.outlook.com”

    6. (historic) DDG is was previously partnered with Yahoo (aka Oath; plus Verizon and AOL by extension).

    DDG helped Yahoo profit for several years by patronizing Yahoo’s API for search results, and also through advertising. Mention of Verizon, Yahoo, and Oath have been quietly scrubbed from DDG’s disclosures. There was no official announcement, so we cannot confirm whether there are still ties to Verizon et al. The Verizon corporate conglomerate is evil in many ways:

    The Verizon corporate conglomerate is evil in many ways:

    1. Yahoo, Verizon, and AOL all supported CISPA (unwarranted surveillance bills)
    2. Yahoo, Verizon, and AOL all use DNSBLs to block individuals from running their own mail servers, thus forcing an over-share of e-mail metadata with a relay.
    3. Verizon and AOL both drug test their employees, thus intruding on their privacy outside of the workplace.
    4. Verizon is was an ALEC member (a powerful superPAC designed to put corporate political interests ahead of human beings). (edit: Verizon dropped ALEC membership in 2018)
    5. Verizon supports the TTP treaty.
    6. Yahoo voluntarily ratted out a human rights journalist (Shi Tao) to the Chinese gov w/out warrant, leading to his incarceration.
    7. Yahoo recently recovered “deleted” e-mail to convict a criminal. The deleted e-mail was not expected to be recoverable per the Yahoo Privacy Policy.
    8. Verizon received $16.8 billion in Trump tax breaks, then immediately laid off thousands of workers.
    9. (2012) Will block or degrade calls to disrupt customer use, at the request of law enforcement, with no court oversight.
    10. (2014) Verizon fined $7.4 million for violating customers’ privacy
    11. (2016) Verizon fined $1.35 million for violating customers’ privacy
    12. (2016) Verizon Communications was hacked impacting 1,500,000 accounts
    13. (2018) Verizon paid $200k to fight privacy in CA. See also California records.
    14. (2018) Verizon apparently caught taking voice prints
    15. (2018) Verizon caught contributing to bribe Assemblyman Miguel Santiago to weaken network neutrality laws.
    16. unfavorable record retention policy (scroll down to Verizon)
    17. (2015) Only 2 stars on EFF transparency report
    18. (2016) Yahoo was caught surreptitiously monitoring Yahoo Mail messages for the NSA, resulting in EFF lawsuit
    19. Verizon donated $100,000 to Trump’s inaugeration, which is a way to sneak money to Trump without triggering the scrutiny of a campaign contribution.
    20. (2020) Verizon had a massive data leak
  7. Advertising Abuses & Corruption:

    1. DDG exploited a room at FOSDEM for commercial gain, to deliver a sales pitch despite its proprietary non-free server code, then dashed out without taking questions. Shame on FOSDEM organizers for allowing this corrupt corporate abuse of precious resources.

    2. Tor Project accepts an annual $25k “contribution” (read: bribe) from DDG, so you’ll find that DDG problems are down-played by those close to the Tor Project (e.g. EFF). This is likely why Tor Browser always defaults to using DDG (which DDG conceals from their disclosure) and why Tor Project endorses DDG over Ss—ultimately against the interests of the privacy-seeking Tor community. This default search engine exploits The Tyranny of Convenience. The EFF also pimps DDG—a likely consequence of EFF’s close ties to Tor Project. Details on how Tor Project responds to criticism about their loyalty toward DuckDuckGo [their benefactor] in IRC):

    18:20 < psychil> if torbrowser is going to be recommended, it should also be open to scrutiny.  in the absence of that transparency, you create an untrustworthy forum.
    18:20 < psychil> we’ve seen a loyalty from TB toward duckduckgo, but DDG is in partnership with Verizon, Yahoo, AOL et. al.
    18:21 < psychil> all CISPA-sponsoring companies
    18:22 < psychil> if ppl choose to trust them fair enough, but this trust shouldn’t be pushed on every user weighing their choice of browsers
    18:26 -!- mode/#tor [-b psychil@!@] by ChanServ
    18:27 < YY_Bozhinsky> psychil: i am using Tor (thanks to Tor Devs)… PLUS brain - good bundle. I am happy. And please, don’t rush to change Reality (do it slowly with love and respect). Because it’s home for many ppl. They construct their lives in it. Think twice before ruining that. Please.
    18:27 -!- mode/#tor [+b psychil!
    @*] by ChanServ
    18:27 -!- psychil was kicked from #tor by ChanServ [wont stop the FUD]

    Tor Project is notoriously fast to censor any discourse (no matter how civil) when it supports a narrative that doesn’t align with their view / propaganda.


The discussion for the above findings is held in this Lemmy.ca thread. Feedback that calls for changes to this article is best introduced as an issue on this repo.