According to recent public testimony, Apple was considering replacing Google with DuckDuckGo as the default search engine in its products’ private browsing modes.
DuckDuckGo’s CEO’s testimony revealed more information than previously known about the extent to which Apple is considering ditching Google in the private search space.
Throughout the conversation, DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg testified that Apple’s agreement with Google to serve as the default search engine for Safari “was often the elephant in the room.”
Apple considered replacing Google
DuckDuckGo will serve as the default search engine for private browsing modes in its products, according to recent public testimony from a rival search executive.
“Our view is that they were actually very interested in it,” said DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg, according to a transcript of the federal court filing seen by CNBC last month. “The people we’re talking to are generally privacy-conscious DuckDuckGo users.”
Weinberg is testifying in the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Google
, DuckDuckGo said, and during the negotiation process, which lasted from 2016 to 2019, Apple had about 20 meetings and phone calls. During this period, Apple’s agreement with Google to become the default search engine for Safari “was often the elephant in the room,” Weinberg said.
The government is trying to argue that Google’s exclusive deals with phone and browser makers deprive competitors of distribution rights and unfairly exclude them from the general search market. Google denies that its actions violate antitrust laws.
DuckDuckGo is a privately held company that has developed a privacy-focused search engine that directly competes with Google, as well as other privacy products designed to limit website tracking of consumers on the web. Weinberg said DuckDuckGo first received a response from Apple in 2016 about the idea of becoming the default search engine for private browsing. DuckDuckGo claims that its search engine minimizes the amount of tracking that other search engines can still do, even in private browsing mode. In 2017, DuckDuckGo met with Senior Vice President Craig Federigo at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California to discuss their proposal. DuckDuckGo provided Apple executives with data on Apple users’ preferences for private browsing modes, and Weinberg said he found the data “very compelling.”
Weinberg’s team said they can “make DuckDuckGo the best search option for Apple users on Apple devices by integrating content into search modules like Apple News, Maps, Music and TV.” Weinberg said he left the meeting under the impression that it “went really well.”
“I’ve sold a lot of things to Apple over the years,” Weinberg testified. “If there is no interest, their behavior is basically silence.”
The following summer, DuckDuckGo executives returned to Cupertino for another meeting and showed what the product’s search engine would look like if it were integrated into Apple services. Weinberg said he “got the impression that they were very serious about the idea of maybe releasing it next year.” Adler asked them to “come back soon to think about what privacy integration might look like,” he said.
Another recently released Apple testimony tells a slightly different story.
John Giannandrea, Apple’s senior vice president of machine learning and artificial intelligence and a former Google executive, joined the company in 2018. He testified that he had no idea that Apple was considering a default switch.
However, he went on to describe discussions with other Apple executives about the potential downsides of the proposal. Giannandrea is concerned that DuckDuckGo’s “privacy marketing is somewhat at odds with the details,” as he believes the company must share certain user information with Microsoft.
Because it arranges to receive search information from Bing.
Weinberg testified that in September 2018, DuckDuckGo returned to Apple headquarters to discuss the integration. Apple “said they’re really considering it for a 2019 launch,” and Weinberg later realized they still had some lingering concerns. Weinberg testified that Apple realized it had to figure out how to fix problems with the Google contract. Sometime after the 2018 holiday season, DuckDuckGo received documents from Apple that showed what its revenue share would have been if it had been pre-set. DuckDuckGO estimates that once private browsing becomes the default, its market share will “multiply”. In the summer of 2019, DuckDuckGo began to realize that this partnership was not going to happen. Apple did not announce the integration at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Four months later after the meeting, Weinberg concluded that the deal was “dead.”
DuckDuckGo also reached out to Samsung, Mozilla, and Opera about making Private Browsing the default setting, but was unable to reach an agreement with any of them. The company eventually ended the model because it concluded that “these companies’ contracts with Google were the main factor preventing us from contracting with them.”