DuckDuckGo AI Chat promises privacy for bot conversations

There's also an off switch

The privacy-focused DuckDuckGo search engine has introduced AI Chat, an optional, free chatbot service – within limits – that provides a choice of models and "can be easily switched off."

Nothing expresses confidence in a product like reassuring potential users that there's an off-switch. But perhaps given the backlash against AI-infused software, that's a sensible brand prophylactic.

DuckDuckGo AI Chat, as described by Nirzar Pangarkar, lead designer at DuckDuckGo, “is an anonymous way to access popular AI chatbots.” We incorrectly assumed that the company would be able to use a chat user’s IP address to identify those abusing the system, but a company spokesperson insists that’s incorrect.

“We design all our systems according to our umbrella policy to make sure that individuals cannot be identified with their searches, chats, or DuckDuckGo browsing histories. So it’s not that we have user-connected IP addresses or other identifiers and decide not to use them; rather, we built our systems so that it’s technically impossible for anyone - including us - to do so,” a spokesperson said.

A laudable privacy stance, to be sure, but one that makes a mockery of a line in the company’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Service: “If you break the law or violate these Terms when using AI Chat for commercial purposes and we get sued, you may have to take responsibility.”

DuckDuckGo, as the company describes itself, has no way to identify rule breakers to make them take responsibility. As the company spokesperson told us, “While we cannot identify our users, there can be cases where someone is identified in another way — like if someone admits in court to using DuckDuckGo AI Chat commercially for illegal purposes. In a situation like that, our terms state that DuckDuckGo is not responsible for that prohibited use.”

Forbidden things include: illegal or harmful activities; violating the rights of others; creating spam or malware; sexually explicit or obscene activities; things that cause physical or economic harm, or violate the law; regulated activities (e.g. law, medicine, finance); or interfering with ChatAI or other DuckDuckGo services. How DuckDuckGo can enforce those rules in the absence of identifiers isn't obvious, apart from model output guardrails.

To the search engine's credit, it has committed to not take user inputs for model training and is requiring that its AI model providers not use submitted prompts or generated output to develop or improve their models. What's more, partners are supposed to delete all information received within 30 days, with exceptions for safety and legal compliance.

DuckDuckGo AI Chat allows users to choose between two proprietary models (OpenAI's GPT 3.5 Turbo, Anthropic's Claude 3 Haiku) and two open source models (Meta Llama 3 and Mistral's Mixtral 8x7B), and plans to add more options at some point.

When making a choice, the user is presented with a summary menu that outlines the differences in the models, mainly that the two commercial models have "high built-in moderation" while Llama 3 has "medium built-in moderation" and Mixtral has "low built-in moderation."

Pangarkar acknowledges that companies are adding AI because everyone else is doing so, but insists DuckDuckGo is simply pursuing its mission to provide products that respect user privacy.

"In the industry-wide race to integrate generative AI, there’s a lot of pressure to add AI features just for the sake of saying you have them," he states. "We’re taking a different approach. Before adding any AI-assisted features to our products – first DuckAssist, our AI-enhanced Instant Answer, and now AI Chat – we think carefully about how to make them additive to the search and browse experience, and we roll them out cautiously to ensure this is the case.

"We also recognize these features aren’t for everyone, so we’ve made our AI-assisted features totally optional; if you’re not interested, you can easily switch them all off."

DuckDuckGo AI Chat is currently free, with an undeclared usage quota. Pangarkar says it is considering paid plans with higher usage limits and user-hosted options. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like