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Editor's note: This report contains accounts of rape, violence and other disturbing events.

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DuckDuckGo Benefits From Internet Searchers Wanting Privacy

Originally published on June 24, 2013 11:55 am

Transcript

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The leaks this month by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed just how widespread government surveillance of phone and online information actually is. The revelations of the government's PRISM program have been raising the concerns about privacy, but also have boom to companies that promise greater privacy online.

Emma Jacobs of member station WHYY in Philadelphia has this report.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Mark Randall stands out front of the bustling Apple store in downtown Philadelphia. Apple is among the companies the government has asked to hand over data. He is not super tech savvy but also uses other services on the list cooperating with the government.

MARK RANDALL: Yeah, I've used Google, YouTube, I'm on Dropbox with some items now and they're set to join, correct?

JACOBS: Yeah.

Randall isn't happy about the PRISM program. Still, he hasn't tried to change his online routine.

RANDALL: Had you grabbed me in the 60s, I'm sure I would have been much more activist.

JACOBS: There are quite a lot of tools Internet users can choose from for greater online privacy, from software that encrypt your web browsing to others that block third party ad services from following you around the Internet.

Once news of the secret government program broke, many of those companies immediately saw their traffic start going up.

GABRIEL WEINBERG: That first week of after the story broke, every day broke our record.

JACOBS: Gabriel Weinberg founded DuckDuckGo, an alternative search engine, which does not keep its users' search history.

WEINBERG: So when you do a search on anything, your computer automatically sends information over about itself. Well, what we do is literally just throw it out.

JACOBS: DuckDuckGo looks like your classic tech startup, with bright yellow beanbag chairs and an employee's large dog under a desk. It has just 20 employees. But, as of end of day Thursday, traffic to the company's site had grown more than 60 percent.

WEINBERG: And to put that in perspective, it took us 435 days to get from one million to two million searches a day and only eight days to go from two to three million.

JACOBS: That's still a small number. Google users log about a billion searches a day.

And Weinberg can't offer absolute privacy. It all depends on whether the sites you visit have secure or encrypted versions. Non-encrypted sites would still show up in your Internet service provider's records.

KASHMIR HILL: That's the thing about the that way tech works.

JACOBS: Kashmir Hill covers online privacy for Forbes on her blog The Not-so Private Parts. She spoke via Skype, which the government has also asked to supply user data. She says real privacy is doable but complicated.

HILL: We're often interacting with lots of different technology companies at once, so this is where it's not just one privacy tool that you can use that solves your problem. Usually you need to use a whole suite of tools.

JACOBS: Because of that, she thinks the honeymoon period of growth for DuckDuckGo and others like it won't last forever.

HILL: I just don't think that many people are going to adopt these tools unless it's really easy.

JACOBS: Outside the Philadelphia Apple store, Mark Randall agrees with her.

RANDALL: I still can't send an attachment.

JACOBS: Randall says he prefers to keep things simple - to log right on to his computer and know where he's going.

RANDALL: Certain habits die hard and I am not of the - born into the computer age. So when I get comfortable with something, change is really difficult.

JACOBS: And it's likely to stay that way, at least for now.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Philadelphia.

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