2019 is the year Facebook announced a “pivot to privacy.” At the same time, Google is trying to claim that privacy means letting it exclusively store and data-mine everything you do online. So what better time to sit down with DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg for a chat about what privacy really means.
We’re delighted to announce that Weinberg is joining us at Disrupt SF (October 2-4).
The pro-privacy search engine he founded has been on a mission to shrink the shoulder-surfing creepiness of internet searching for more than a decade, serving contextual keyword-based ads, rather than pervasively tracking users to maintain privacy-hostile profiles. (If you can’t quite believe the decade bit; here’s DDG’s startup elevator pitch — which we featured on TC all the way back in 2008.)
It’s a position that looks increasingly smart as big tech comes under sharper political and regulatory scrutiny on account of the volume of information it’s amassing. (Not to mention what it’s doing with people’s data.)
Despite competing as a self-funded underdog against the biggest tech giants around, DuckDuckGo has been profitable and gaining users at a steady clip for years. It also recently took in a chunk of VC to capitalize on what its investors see as a growing international opportunity to help internet users go about their business without being intrusively snooped on. Which makes a compelling counter narrative to the tech giants.
In more recent developments it has added a tracker blocker to its product mix — and been dabbling in policy advocacy — calling for a revival of a Do Not Track browser standard, after earlier attempts floundered with the industry, failing to reach accord.
The political climate around privacy and data protection does look to be pivoting in such a way that Do Not Track could possibly swing back into play. But if — and, yes it’s a big one — privacy ends up being a baked-in internet norm, how might a pioneer like DuckDuckGo maintain its differentiating edge?
While, on the flip side, what if tech giants end up moving in on its territory by redefining privacy in their own self-serving image? We have questions and will be searching Weinberg for answers.
There’s also the fact that many a founder would have cut and run just half a decade into pushing against the prevailing industry grain. So we’re also keen to mine his views on entrepreneurial patience, and get a better handle on what makes him tick as a person — to learn how he’s turned a passion for building people-centric, principled products into a profitable business.
Disrupt SF runs October 2 – October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here.