The CEO of search engine DuckDuckGo Gabriel Weinberg has said that they want to penalize sites which are associated with Russian disinformation.
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Weinberg took to social media and said “Like so many others I am sickened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the gigantic humanitarian crisis it continues to create.”
“At DuckDuckGo, we’ve been rolling out search updates that down-rank sites associated with Russian disinformation,” he added.
“To highlight quality information for rapidly unfolding topics,” Weinberg noted, DuckDuckGo is also inserting information bubbles at the top of the search results page.
In addition to down-ranking sites associated with disinformation, we also often place news modules and information boxes at the top of DuckDuckGo search results (where they are seen and clicked the most) to highlight quality information for rapidly unfolding topics.— Gabriel Weinberg (@yegg) March 10, 2022
DuckDuckGo is a Google alternative that has grown in popularity in recent years, in part due to the fact that it does not track users. In the past, Weinberg has enticed consumers to switch from Google by promising “unbiased results.”
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DuckDuckGo's mission is to make simple privacy protection accessible to all. Privacy is a human right and transcends politics, which is why about 100 million people around the world use DuckDuckGo. (We don't have an exact count since we don't track people.)— Gabriel Weinberg (@yegg) March 10, 2022
Some users, including Tom Fitton, president of the Judicial Watch nonprofit, questioned the CEO’s response right away.
“Contrary to its implicit promises to the contrary,” he said on Twitter, DuckDuckGo “is now in the censorship business.” “Are there any search engines that respect users?”
“Today, you are removing Russian disinformation Tomorrow you will be removing genuine protests,” another user wrote.
A request for comment from DuckDuckGo was not answered.
Some of the critics were eventually addressed by Weinberg.
“Search engines by definition try to put more relevant content higher and less relevant content lower—that’s not censorship, it’s search ranking relevancy,” he added.
Since 2017, Google has ranked Russian official media posts lower in its search results.
At the time, Google parent company Alphabet’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, remarked “We don’t want to ban the sites. That’s not how we operate. I am strongly not in favor of censorship. I am very strongly in favor of ranking. It’s what we do.”
One of the outlets, Russia Today, pushed back at the time, claiming, “His colleagues admitted three weeks ago that RT did not violate any rules of the platform.”
In early March, Google also stopped selling web advertising in Russia.
Around the same time, DuckDuckGo’s senior public policy manager, Katie McInnis, informed a congressional subcommittee that the company had terminated its partnership with Yandex, a Russian search engine.
“In light of Russia’s assault on democracy and Ukraine, we have paused our relationship with Yandex,” McInnis told the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. “The index was used to provide traditional links, meaning non-news links, in Russia and Turkey.”