Under the hood, things are more complex. Greg Fiorentino, a product director at DuckDuckGo, says when you enter your personal data into the system, it’s all saved in an encrypted database on your computer (the tool doesn’t work on mobile), and the company isn’t sent this information. “It doesn’t go to DuckDuckGo servers at all,” he says.

For each of the data brokers’ websites, Fiorentino says, DuckDuckGo looked at its URL structure: For instance, search results may include the name, location, and other personal information that are queried. When the personal information tool looks for you on these websites, it constructs a URL with the details you have entered.

“Each of the 53 sites we cover has a slightly different structure,” Fiorentino says. “We have a template URL string that we substitute the data in from the user to search. There are lots of different nuances and things that we need to be able to handle to actually match the data correctly.”

During testing, the company says, it found most people have between 15 and 30 records on the data broker sites it checks, although the highest was around 150. Weinberg says he added six addresses to be removed from websites. “I found hits on old stuff, and even in the current address, which I really tried to hide a bit from getting spam at, it’s still out there somehow,” Weinberg says. “It’s really hard to avoid your information getting out there.”

Once the scan for records has been completed, the DuckDuckGo system, using a similar deconstruction of each of the data broker websites, will then automatically make requests for the records to be removed, the team working on the product say. Fiorentino says some opt-outs will happen within hours, whereas others can take weeks to remove the data. The product director says that in the future, the tool may be able to remove data from more websites, and the company is looking at potentially including more sensitive data in the opt-outs, such as financial information.

Various personal-information-removal services exist on the web, and they can vary in what they remove from websites or the services they provide. Not all are trustworthy. Recently, Mozilla, the creator of the Firefox browser, stopped working with identity protection service Onerep after investigative journalist Brian Krebs revealed that the founder of Onerep also founded dozens of people-search websites in recent years.

DuckDuckGo’s subscription service marks the first time the company has started charging for a product—its browser and search engine are free to use, and the firm makes its money from contextual ads. Weinberg says that, because subscriptions are purchased through Apple’s App Store, Google Play, or with payment provider Stripe, details about who subscribes are not transferred to DuckDuckGo’s servers. A random ID is created for each user when they sign up, so people don’t have to create an account or hand DuckDuckGo their payment information. The company says it doesn’t have access to people’s Apple IDs or Google account details.


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