With frequent reports of data leaks, and an increasing awareness of user data being sold to third parties, it isn’t surprising that the importance of data privacy has entered the public consciousness. This has led to the growth of VPNs and private search engines as users are increasingly seeking ways to protect their online privacy and safety, according to research by  private network service provider Nord VPN.

DuckDuckGo, a search engine that emphasises protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding personalised search results, has reached 30 million searches. This is a growth of about 50% from 20 million in 2017. Although this represents only 0.18% of the global search market, DuckDuckGo has now overtaken AOL, suggesting that it is on the rise.

Virtual private network (or VPN) use is also increasing. VPNs allow users to create a secure connection to a network, and since the data is encrypted, it cannot be tracked. According to research by Nord VPN, they are now used by 25% of internet users.

Marty Kamden, chief marketing officer at Nord VPN, believes that concerns over internet security are entering the mainstream:

“When we launched Nord VPN, it was mostly a tool for technology geeks and those who were aware how encryption worked, as well as those who wanted to reach the uncensored Internet. Recently we have reached 8 million users. People are realising that their personal information is very insecure if they don’t do anything to stay private online.”

Privacy concerns rise

This rise may be thanks to a recent spike in the public’s awareness of how their data may be used online. Widely reported events such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, has brought the fact that private data is used to build user profiles that can then be sold to marketers and other third parties into public knowledge.

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According to a recent study by IBM, 45% of consumers are more concerned about their online privacy than they were a year ago, and companies collecting and sharing personal information is a top concern for 36%.

Kamden believes that public scandals surrounding the use of data is what drives the increasing use of VPNs and alternative search engines:

“VPN usage spikes when governments pass intrusive laws like the UK’s Snooper’s Charter or the net neutrality revocation in the US, and the demand for a private search engine grew after Google announced privacy policy changes and Snowden leaked documents detailing mass surveillance.  We recommend that people use both DuckDuckGo and a VPN to protect their privacy.”