Apple had considered switching to DuckDuckGo from Google, but rejected it

Oct 5, 2023

The U.S. Department of Justice's legal feud vs Google is bringing up more details about its rivals. A new report from Bloomberg reveals that Apple had considered switching to DuckDuckGo as the default search engine for Safari, but dropped the idea.

Over the past few weeks, we have come to know that Apple had an opportunity to acquire Bing from Microsoft, but decided it was not worth it. The main reason for this was that Google was paying Apple somewhere in the range of $8 billion per year just to have its search engine as the default across iOS, iPadOS and macOS. However, Apple's executives, including Eddy Cue, had felt that Microsoft Bing's quality was nowhere near that of what Google offered.

The DoJ claims that Google was using partnerships like the ones it has with Apple to cement its position as the dominant search engine in the market, and that this violates antitrust regulations. Google's lawyers have rejected the idea, and argued that it was not illegal to build the best search engine.

The lawsuit between the Department of Justice and Google saw executives from other search engines offer their testimony. This included DuckDuckGo's CEO Gabriel Weinberg and Neeva's Sridhar Ramaswamy. Up until now, details about Weinberg's testimony has been sparse due to it being held in a closed session. US District Judge Amit Mehta, had ruled that the testimonies of Gabriel Weinberg and Apple executive John Giannandrea should be made public, as they are important to the case.

Apple held several talks with DuckDuckGo

Weinberg told the court that DuckDuckGo held about 20 meetings and phone calls with executives from Apple between 2018 and 2019. The meetings involved the head of Safari too, as the two companies discussed the possibility of using DuckDuckGo as the default search engine in Safari's private browsing mode. Now, in case you are not aware, Google is the default search engine in Safari's regular browsing mode and private browsing mode. It's actually not a very sensible decision to use Google for private mode, but that's a different story.

Weinberg was under the belief that the talks had progressed well, and that a deal would be made between the two companies. He said that Apple had integrated several of DuckDuckGo's privacy technologies into Safari, but ultimately it was never made the default search engine. DuckDuckGo would have been welcomed by many privacy enthusiasts, so what went wrong?

Apple executive thought it would be a bad idea to switch to DuckDuckGo

Giannandrea denied that Apple had considered the switch to DuckDuckGo. The executive, who became Apple's head of Search in 2018, had written an email to other Apple executives in 2019, to convince them it would be a bad idea to switch to DuckDuckGo as the default search engine for private browsing.

Giannandrea was not convinced by DuckDuckGo's privacy, because the search engine relied on data from Microsoft Bing. He believed that DuckDuckGo would be sharing some user information with Microsoft, and this wasn't privacy-friendly.

That does seem like a logical decision to protect users. But, it does not tally with what Apple did around the same time. In 2018, Apple's CEO Tim Cook had asked Giannandrea to discuss the possibility of using Microsoft Bing as the search engine in Safari. The talks took place over a few years, until 2020, before it failed. Where was the privacy factor here? It seems like Apple was simply looking for the highest bidder, and Google won the contest.

Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, admitted to the court that Bing is inferior to Google. He also said that the Redmond company would be willing to pay up to $15 billion to Apple to make Bing the default search engine on iOS, iPadOS and macOS. Nadella had even said that Microsoft would respect Apple's privacy policies, and hide the Bing branding on the platforms if a deal was struck between the two Silicon Valley giants. Nadella had dismissed arguments that it was easy to change the search engine. He had said that defaults are the only thing that matter, and that users don't normally change them.

FYI, if you want to change the search engine in Safari on your iPhone or iPad, just head over to the Settings > Safari > Search Engine. Mac users can change the search engine from Safari > Search > Search Engine.

Apple had considered switching to DuckDuckGo from Google, but rejected it
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Apple had considered switching to DuckDuckGo from Google, but rejected it
Apple could have switched to DuckDuckGo on Safari, but decided not to.
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