DuckDuckGo has spent the last few years making the case that it’s the search engine that can protect your privacy, and now it’s trying to bolster that claim with a new partner: Apple. It is announcing that Apple Maps will now power its local search results on both desktop and mobile web browsers. Apple Maps will be the default provider for address and local searches, and it will also be the map you see when you click for more results. DuckDuckGo says that it will now have “improved address searches, additional visual features, enhanced satellite imagery, and continually updated maps.”
The terms of the deal “are confidential,” DuckDuckGo says. That includes whether any money is changing hands or whether DuckDuckGo is limited by the same “daily limit of 250,000 map views and 25,000 service calls” that Apple imposes on companies that integrate its maps on the web for free.
Apple doesn’t have the strongest pedigree for providing tools that developers can embed into their web apps, but that might be starting to change. DuckDuckGo is taking advantage of a tool that Apple announced last summer at its Worldwide Developers Conference: MapKit JS. It’s technically a beta, but it works on the web very similarly to how it works inside iOS apps, allowing developers to embed maps, add annotations, and create custom pins to identify places.
Before today, DuckDuckGo used a mix of different services to power its results: sidebars and boxes used OpenStreetMap, while asking for directions meant getting a drop-down menu with options from Bing, Here maps, and Google. DuckDuckGo says that “Apple is providing all of the maps for our new maps experience,” though it will “continue to use a variety of providers to add additional data to these results, such as a direct integration with Yelp.”
DuckDuckGo is positioning the Apple Maps announcement as part of its ongoing privacy focus. Before today, DuckDuckGo already did a bunch of work to ensure your local searches don’t pass on your precise location to mapping providers. It doesn’t pass on your IP address, for example, nor does it store your IP after your search is over.
Over email, a DuckDuckGo spokesperson didn’t mince words about how privacy would work with Apple Maps: “We do not store or share personal information — period. This Apple Maps integration is no different. As with other partners and providers, we anonymize all requests to Apple so search results remain private.” There’s more information on how that works (including some nitty gritty details about how browsers can request more specific location information) here.
Under the new system with Apple Maps, presumably, that infrastructure will remain the same. On Apple’s side of things, it claims to protect privacy within Maps on iOS by associating searches with “random identifiers” that can’t be tied to an Apple ID and that “reset themselves as you use the app.”
Google Maps is still the gold standard when it comes to accurate and comprehensive local results, especially on the web. But Apple is clearly working overtime to catch up. It recently began rolling out more detailed maps being created with its own data, which are currently limited to California. Digital cartography blogger Justin O’Beirne posted a detailed analysis of the new maps this past November, showing that in the new maps, Apple has much more detail but still lacks a database of places that’s as extensive as Google’s.
While Google may be the gold standard for mapping that has the largest database of places and results, that isn’t the only metric by which location searches are being judged anymore. Recent stories by Motherboard and The New York Times have laid bare just how easily your phone’s location can be tracked by third parties, though that data often originates with carriers. DuckDuckGo’s privacy policies won’t stop that, but they should make it just a little more difficult for advertisers to target you.