According to evidence from DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg, which was recently made public during the Department of Justice’s antitrust case against Google, Apple apparently considered switching from using Google to DuckDuckGo as the default search engine in private browsing mode. The testimony sheds light on Apple’s efforts to improve privacy features by offering insights into the conversations and discussions between Apple and DuckDuckGo.
Weinberg testified that talks between DuckDuckGo and Apple started in 2016 and went on until 2019 with roughly 20 meetings and phone calls between the two sides. The potential for DuckDuckGo to replace Google as the default search engine in Apple’s Safari browser for private browsing was the main topic of these discussions.
Apple’s current agreement with Google, which made Google the default search engine on Safari, was a persistent but significant presence during these negotiations. In its antitrust lawsuit, the Department of Justice claims that Google’s exclusive deals with phone and browser manufacturers reduced competition in the market for general search by preventing distribution to rivals.
A search engine that prioritizes anonymity called DuckDuckGo advertised itself as a serious challenger to Google. Even in private browsing mode, it was claimed to considerably limit tracking. Data on user expectations for private browsing were delivered to Craig Federighi, a senior vice president at Apple, at a meeting the business secured in 2017. The search engine DuckDuckGo proposes being included into Apple products like Apple News, Maps, Music, and TV.
Weinberg left the meeting feeling upbeat and confident that Apple was actually considering the suggestion. Meetings that followed in Cupertino confirmed this idea. Weinberg believed that Apple was taking DuckDuckGo’s graphics of how their search engine may be incorporated into Apple services into consideration for an upcoming release.
But John Giannandrea, Apple’s senior vice president of machine learning and artificial intelligence, offered a somewhat different viewpoint in recently unsealed testimony from Apple’s side. Giannandrea claimed he had no knowledge of Apple’s plans to change the default search engine. The privacy claims made by DuckDuckGo, which receives search information from Bing, also caused him some concern.
Despite the positive conversations, DuckDuckGo realized by the summer of 2019 that the deal would not happen. In June, Apple held its Worldwide Developers Conference without announcing the integration, and further meetings suggested that the arrangement had been abandoned.
Attempts by DuckDuckGo to establish similar agreements with Samsung, Mozilla, and Opera to become the default choice in their private browsing modes eventually failed. According to DuckDuckGo, the main impediment to negotiating arrangements with these companies was the pre-existing relationships with Google.
The information from this testimony offers a window into the intricate discussions and factors that guide the decisions that internet titans make on user privacy and partnerships.