DuckDuckGo has made updates to its search engine to censor websites from its results that are “associated with disinformation,” according to the company’s CEO.
The Internet search engine, which sells itself on protecting searchers’ privacy, has begun penalizing sites linked to “Russian disinformation” amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Like so many others I am sickened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the gigantic humanitarian crisis it continues to create,” CEO Gabriel Weinberg wrote on social media.
“At DuckDuckGo, we’ve been rolling out search updates that down-rank sites associated with Russian disinformation.”
Google alternative DuckDuckGo is also placing boxes with information at the top of the search results page “to highlight quality information for rapidly unfolding topics,” Weinberg added.
DuckDuckGo has been growing in popularity in recent years in part because it doesn’t track users.
Weinberg has in the past promised “unbiased results” as part of his pitch to people to switch from Google, which has been criticized for its left-wing bias.
Some users quickly questioned the CEO’s update, including Tom Fitton, president of the political watchdog group Judicial Watch.
DuckDuckGo, “contrary to its implicit promises to the contrary, is now in the censorship business,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Are there any search engines that respect users?”
“Today, you are removing Russian disinformation Tomorrow you will be removing genuine protests,” another user wrote.
Weinberg later responded to some of the critics.
“Search engines by definition try to put more relevant content higher and less relevant content lower—that’s not censorship, it’s search ranking relevancy,” he said.
Google has been placing Russian state media posts lower on its results since 2017.
“We don’t want to ban the sites,” Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, said at the time.
“That’s not how we operate.
“I am strongly not in favor of censorship.
“I am very strongly in favor of ranking. It’s what we do.”
Pushing back at the time, Russia Today (RT), one of the outlets, said, “His colleagues admitted three weeks ago that RT did not violate any rules of the platform.”
Google also suspended selling online advertising in Russia in early March.
Around the same time, Katie McInnis, a senior public policy manager for DuckDuckGo, told a congressional panel that the company suspended its relationship with Yandex, a Russian search engine.
“In light of Russia’s assault on democracy and Ukraine, we have paused our relationship with Yandex,” McInnis told the House Committee on Energy & Commerce.
“The index was used to provide traditional links, meaning non-news links, in Russia and Turkey.”