Apple Considered DuckDuckGo for Safari Search at One Point

Image: DuckDuckGo

Apple held multiple discussions with search engine DuckDuckGo about replacing Google as the default search engine for Safari’s private browsing mode but ultimately decided against it, according to court transcripts unsealed on Wednesday.

The documents were part of the ongoing antitrust trial against Google overseen by US District Judge Amit Mehta, reports Bloomberg.

“We were talking about it, I thought they would launch it,” said Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, who testified that his company had nearly 20 meetings with Apple executives, including the head of Safari, in 2018 and 2019.

Despite integrating several of DuckDuckGo’s privacy technologies into Safari, Apple did not proceed with making DuckDuckGo the default search engine for private browsing.

“The motivating factor for setting DuckDuckGo as the default for private browsing was an assumption” that it would be more private, testified John Giannandrea, head of search at Apple. He pointed out that DuckDuckGo relies on Bing for its search information, which could compromise user privacy.

In contrast, Apple also considered Microsoft’s Bing as a potential replacement for Google. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, initiated talks with Microsoft executives in 2018 and 2020 about a possible joint venture or sale of Bing to Apple. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella indicated that Microsoft was willing to incur significant financial losses if Apple made the switch.

The unsealed documents shed light on Apple’s considerations of alternative search engines but confirm that the company ultimately maintained its lucrative revenue-sharing agreement with Google. The Justice Department argues that such agreements have stifled competition in the search engine market, where Google holds a 90% share.

Apple and Google had requested that the testimony remain confidential, but Judge Mehta decided that the information was “critical to the case” and ordered its release, withholding only trade secrets and specific financial figures.

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