Students regularly post personal information on their social media accounts that organizations collect and sell, but new search engines such as DuckDuckGo, launched in 2008, could protect users from data mining.
Privacy is becoming a hot topic among students as more internet users are being made aware of how data collectors use their information.
The Federal Communications Commission brought privacy to the public stage in 2017 as the government debated Net Neutrality — the idea that all information should be treated equally on the web. Other instances, such as the usage of the data mining organization, Cambridge Analytica, in President Donald J. Trump’s 2016 election, also exposed the prevalence of web tracking.
Peter Thomas, senior finance major, said he believes that internet privacy is an important issue to students.
“Everyone has a right to keep their own data and information private,” Thomas said.
Although internet privacy is becoming a larger conversation, students exist in an internet landscape in which their peers are constantly posting life updates on social media.
Dr. John Butler, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the lines between communication and personal privacy are blurring.
“The definition of (privacy) might change per person,” Butler said. “Some people might not care very much about their privacy. They’re willing for anything to be out there.”
Yet tools used to track user data, such as cookies, continue to collect information regardless. Butler said he receives advertisements on his phone originating from real-life conversations.
Social media powerhouse Instagram is one of many platforms that tracks its users’ interaction with content. Users may be shocked to find that their age, demographic, preferences, vocation and more are gathered into analytics conglomerations and sold to advertisers targeting specific groups.
Students may find the use of search engine DuckDuckGo helpful in shielding their information and browsing habits. DuckDuckGo’s website claims: “We don’t store your personal information. Ever.” This engine does not store user history, prevents web tracking and eliminates personalized search results.
While companies such as Google and Yahoo rank their search results based on user preference, two users with opposite habits could search the same term on DuckDuckGo and see the same outcome.
Nicolas Disanto, freshman engineering major, said he still uses Google, but his father made the switch to DuckDuckGo because of its safer structure.
“Part of it is the ubiquity of Google,” Disanto said. “It is just the most simple because it pops up right there.”
Google is by far the largest search engine on the market, but DuckDuckGo could be a useful alternative for students worried about protecting their data. Students can go to duckduckgo.com and have the option to install it to their browser.