Apple is considering replacing Google with DuckDuckGo as the default search engine in Safari private browsing mode

Google's ongoing antitrust trial reveals many interesting elements of the Apple-Google relationship that have put the company’ lucrative deal to make Google Search the default browser on iPhones, iPads and Macs under intense legal scrutiny.

The latest development is that Apple has been considering replacing Google Search as the search engine, according to Bloomberg default systems in Safari when clients used private browsing mode. Google would remain the default search mode. Negotiations between Apple and DuckDuckGo took place between 2018 and 2019.

Testimony from DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg and Apple Senior Vice President John Giannandrea was given behind closed doors, but a judge has now ruled they will be made public because they are considered critical to the case. Code names and confidential business information in published documents will be redacted.

DuckDuckGo said it was surprised that Apple never implemented the switch from Google to DuckDuckGo after months of negotiations.

Apple's Giannandrea, however, said the company never seriously considered the switch because he would otherwise have pushed for more scrutiny. Giannandrea noted that the motivation might be to improve user privacy, but since DuckDuckGo relies on Bing for most of its search results, it was unclear to him whether it would be much more private than just using Google. (Update: A DuckDuckGo spokesperson pointed to the company's privacy policy, which states that they “do not allow our hosting and content providers to create your search and browsing history.”

Giannandrea previously touted in court a new iOS 17 feature that allows users to select a different search engine separately for regular browsing and private browsing modes. But Google is the default for both.

The Justice Department argues that the Google-Apple deal, under which Google pays Apple about $8 billion annually as part of an advertising revenue-sharing agreement, is anticompetitive. because it blocks competition in the search market. It argues that the barrier to switching from the default search engine is too high. It views talks with DuckDuckGo and Microsoft's Bing as simply a negotiating tactic for Apple to secure better financial terms with Google. Apple says it uses Google because it is the best.

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