Brave browser offers to boost your online search privacy

A partnership with search engine DuckDuckGo means private-mode searches can become more private.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

The Brave browser has a new way to protect your privacy online: an option to use the DuckDuckGo search engine by default in private tabs.

Private browsing, also known as incognito in Google's Chrome browser, is a special browser mode that doesn't leave traces of your browsing history on your computer. But Brave Software says searches with DuckDuckGo will help keep your personal behavior details from leaking out onto websites, too.

"A lot of people think their searches aren't tracked in private browsing mode. Unfortunately, that's not true," DuckDuckGo Chief Executive Gabriel Weinberg said in a statement. DuckDuckGo doesn't collect any private information, though, he said.

The DuckDuckGo search engine emphasizes privacy.

The DuckDuckGo search engine emphasizes privacy.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

A new version of Brave for personal computers will offer you the option of switching your default search engine to DuckDuckGo for private tabs. Google is the default today for both private and ordinary tabs. Brave plans to bring the feature to mobile versions of its browser in the first quarter of 2018.

Privacy has been an issue for decades on the internet, but usually not an issue that riles most of us up. That could change, though, as online advertisers learn to pry more, to fingerprint us by our browser characteristics, and as browsers make more of an effort to shield us from what can be seen as abusive behavior.

Brave is betting that increasingly intrusive websites and advertising companies will drive us to try to protect our privacy more. It's not alone: Mozilla's newer Focus browser for mobile devices bans behavior tracking, and Apple's Safari is cracking down on trackers, too. Brave is planning on even more powerful privacy protections, too, with integration of the Tor identity-shielding technology into private tabs.

Brave is a small player compared with rivals like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge , Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox. But its co-founder and chief executive, Brendan Eich, has lots of industry cred by virtue of co-founding Firefox and inventing the JavaScript browser programming language before that.

Still, even a small player could help DuckDuckGo. The more people use a search engine, the more opportunities it has to show ads and the more likely advertisers are to sign up to show them. DuckDuckGo will pay Brave a portion of search revenue, Brave said.

Brave browser logo

DuckDuckGo is a relatively small player, too. It's handled 16 billion searches so far, which sounds like a lot until you realize that Google handles at least 2 trillion searches per year.

Search deals can be lucrative for browser makers -- when things go well. A 2014 search deal between Mozilla and Yahoo went south, leading Mozilla to switch to Google after concluding Yahoo wasn't improving its search quality. The issue is now tangled up in a legal fight between Mozilla and Yahoo's parent company, Verizon.

Brave has irritated the advertising industry by blocking ads by default. But it's trying to build a new ad system that shows ads personalized by the browser itself to protect privacy.