DuckDuckGo searches remove legally dodgy media sites

Users of privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo have been unable to search the site for domains of some well-known pirated media sites recently, as reported by TorrentFreak Friday. DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg called it “completely made up”. Tweeter over the weekend it was the result of site operator error. Weinberg insisted the company was not serving any results. “Anyone can check it out by searching for an outlet and see it show up in the results,” Weinberg tweeted.

To observers, it looked like DuckDuckGo had de-indexed searches for copyright-infringing media download sites like The Pirate Bay and Fmovies, and even a site search for the open source tool youtube-dl came up empty. TorrentFreak later updated its report by quoting a company spokesperson blaming the problem with Bing search data, which DuckDuckGo relies on.

We contacted DuckDuckGo about the issue and received this response from Senior Communications Manager Allison Goodman:

After reviewing this, our records indicate that YouTube-dl and The Pirate Bay were never removed from our search results when you searched for them directly by name or URL, which the vast majority of people do (it’s rare whether people use site operators or query operators in general).

The edge was informed that the new behavior was not aimed at hack-related sites. “We have problems with our website: operator, and not just for these sites,” Goodman wrote. “Some of the other sites regularly change domain names and have patchy availability, and so naturally go up and down the index, but should be available now.” The edge was able to observe these changes: a Friday search of “ spider-man” returned no results (including the absence of the main site), but today the search returns at least the site thepiratebay .org — but nothing inside.

The Pirate Bay was completely removed this weekend, but now DuckDuckGo is at least showing the domain accordingly.
Screenshot: Jay Peters and Umar Shakir

Like Goodman, Weinberg asserted that site operators are used sparingly and downplayed this as a problem:

Likewise, we don’t “purge” YouTube-dl or The Pirate Bay and they’ve both been permanently available in our results if you search for them by name (which most people do). Our site: operator (which almost no one uses) is having issues that we are investigating.

Whatever the cause of the change, this is DuckDuckGo’s second recent dust on its search results. In March, the company responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by saying it would downgrade sites spreading Russian disinformation. Right-wing figures who had promoted it as an alternative to Google claimed he had abandoned the principles of freedom of expression for censorshipwhile DDG spokesman Kamyl Bazbaz said Recode, “It’s not censorship. These are just search rankings.

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