DuckDuckGo analisys

Analyzing privacy communication in DuckDuckGo products

cover image

Date: 2020

Role: Research, Analysis, Design

In addition to searching, DuckDuckGo has privacy products - browser extensions and mobile browsers.

In this research, I will try to understand how the company communicates the importance of privacy in its products and suggest some improvements to make communications and interface more clear.

While my examples mainly focus on the privacy dashboard in the Chrome extension, mobile version quite similar, so a lot of the problems apply to it as well.

1. Overview

What is extension about

For starters, let's see how the company advertises an extension in Chrome Store, to see what customers can understand about product when they're installing the extension:

DuckDuckGo in chrome store

The benefits of the application can be distilled to just two points:

1. It blocks the trackers
2. It informs you about how the site addresses privacy.

Here's what the extension itself looks like:

Original extension
Pages of DuckDuckGo extension

From what I see, I can distinguish three main reasons for users to open the extension interface after it is installed:

1. To learn more about a particular site
2. To reassure they're safe
3. To use the functions (disable blocker, manage whitelist, report sites, search).

In this image, I marked how each of the interface elements belongs to categories:

Purpose of the elements
Purpose of the elements (kind of mixed up)

Let's try to look at some issues that I see here, and then figure out how to make the interface more intuitive.

2. Problems

What is not quite right

The general structure of the extension implies quite a lot of unnecessary interaction. To see the detailed information about the site, you need to make quite a few clicks. When you open an extension is not quite clear what is in the internal sections, and quite often you find not a lot of new information inside.

Here are some problems I see in current interface of widget:

1. Ambiguity of grades

DuckDuckGo uses a grading system where each site is assigned a summarized score for respect for privacy by a set of parameters.

The biggest problem is that it shows the final grade in the icon after the extension has already blocked the trackers. Here are two sites, one is good from the beginning, the other initially unsafe, but handled by DuckDuckGo. Both have the same rating.

Grades are the same but there is a catch!
Grades are the same but there is a catch!

Thus, user sees only the final score and can not find out if everything was okay with the site from the beginning, or if DuckDuckGo should take credit for this.

This somehow prevents the main objectives of the extension: users do not know for sure how bad the site itself is, and do not know how well the extension has protected them until they open it.

Initial grade only shown inside
Most important part (upgraded from C to B+) but you don't see this from the icon!

Additionally, it is worth noting that the scores are not very clear by themselves. What is the difference between C and C+? Is B good enough? Hard to tell!

2. Security practices section not always work

At first, I found this section rather useless, because most sites have nothing inside. However, then I clicked the link below and it turned out to be a very useful thing - the simple language explanations of what happens to the data, based on license agreements.

This is interesting and necessary information, it would be useful for the user to see it. Unfortunately, in most cases, the widget doesn't display anything (often even for sites presented on the ToS:DR site) and when there's something there, it takes an extra click to see it.

3. The search looks out of place

The search bar looks a lot like just header. But even when you notice it, it's still presented without any additional explanation, and it is not immediately clear: is it a search within the widget? Across the site? Maybe all over the Internet?

Why is it here at all? I understand that this is probably a good idea to advertise another product in the widget, but it definitely lacks some context.

4. Functions are not communicated clearly

All functions assume that the client already knows for sure what to do with them.

What is the white list?
When you turn off the tracker, it is added to the white list. Why?
What happens if you turn the tracker back on? Why should I report a broken site?

You have to click to find out.

5. The statistics looks frustrating

The statistics are communicated in such a way that the user feels more anxious than secure. Instead of seeing how well the extension does its job, the client sees how many services are trying to spy on them.

While the statistics are important and interesting, I think that this is a missed opportunity to communicate the benefits and security that the service provides.

Here is picture showing some of the problems of current layout:

Some problems of current extension interface
Some problems of current extension interface

3. Solutions

What can be done

Now I will demonstrate possible redesign of the extension widget, show how I tried to solve existing problems, and explain some of the thoughts behind my decisions. So, here's what an updated widget could look like:

Redesigned version of widget
Redesigned version of widget

1. Focusing on the main function

I suggest shifting focus and clearly communicate the main functionality of the application - blocking trackers. With a new appearance it is clearly reflected in both the icon and the widget window itself: now you can immediately see what the extension has done to protect your privacy.

I believe that this will help users better understand what the extension does at first glance. This way, more people can start using the extension.

All available information about the site is also clearly shown here, without the need to click on different sections to see everything. I've added more detailed info from ToS:DR, because it is quite valuable information to see.

Focusing on the most important thing
Focusing on the most important thing

2. Solving the grades problem

Now, let's talk about grades. As I described, there are some problems with the current approach.

I would suggest that the company do some research with clients to find out how well users understand the idea of grades and how obvious it is that the icon shows the corrected grades. Based on the results, you can draw some conclusions with more confidence, and perhaps somehow increase the grading obviousness more accurately.

Here I would like to suggest a slightly more radical variant of changing the icon, which would not include the grades at all, but in my opinion, it would increase the informativeness and clearness of the icon.

As you can see, this approach focuses on the number of blocked trackers, which are shown on the shield icon. At the same time, the quality of the site itself is always shown separately, with color: from the most insecure red sites to decent green.

New icon concept
Icon structure

The icon duplicated in the widget interface clearly explains how the icon is structured so after a couple of uses, customers should have no questions on how to extract layers of information from it without even opening the extension.

This gives a clear separation of two bits of information, and when you look at the icon, you can say with certainty how much the site respects privacy on the one hand, and how well the extension handles attempts to spy on the user on the other.

In the extension window itself, depending on users' acceptance of the idea of grades, you can leave it in alphabetical values as it is now, or make it even easier: "Unsafe, Acceptable, Fair, Safe".

3. Introducing clear structure

Now there is a new clear structure: on the left, there is information about a particular site, to the right, there is extension management and company information. This adds a visual order and makes it easier to navigate through the interface.

I've also made the widget window more spacious, so there is no need to click on different panels to see individual pieces of data. Now when you open the widget you can see all available information about the site at glance.

New structure is clear and let you see everything at once
New structure is clear and let you see everything at once

4. Communicating functions and benefits

I worked with the product benefit communication on the right side of the widget. Statistics now show the benefits of the application and builds trust, and the search organically offers to continue to use the Internet safely with a search by DuckDuckGo.

Also, the commands are described in a more human way, which should help new users to understand how and why to use them.

Communicating functions
Communicating functions

3. Conclusion and suggestions


As a result of this redesign we could potentially see the following benefits:

1. Clearer communication of the main function in advertising and the interface will encourage more people to install the extension.

2. Simplified icon will allow users to separate the quality of the site, from the contribution of the extension to its security.

3. Simplified layout of the extension panel will help users to navigate faster and see all available information about the site.

4. More friendly statistics will more clearly show the benefits of the application and invite more users to use the search.

Now I would like to make some final recommendations to the DuckDuckGo team about actions that I think would most likely make the current experience with extension more robust.

1. Conduct a research

I suggest conducting a series of interviews to determine how well users understand the assessments and how they work. This will help to better understand what steps are worth taking, from rethinking the extension icon to completely abandoning grading.

Here are a few more questions that would be interesting to explore:

- How many people notice the search, and how many of them using it?
- How many people understand why you need to report the site.
- How obvious is the automatic addition to the white list when the lock is disabled?

2. Add useful details

I would recommend expanding cooperation with ToS:DR, or creating a similar proprietary service. This would allow displaing more relevant information about the sites. The ability to open the extension and quickly read a dozen of the most important privacy facts from the user agreement can be a unique advantage of the application, just like blocking trackers.

3. Focus on main function

Focus communication, both in advertising and extension interface, on the main function - trackers blocking. This will help to attract new users who would have difficulty understanding the benefits of the extension in the current implementation.

4. Redesign for clarity

Consider redesigning the extension in order to avoid users having to click on sections in order to see the information. If everything is in plain view, users will find it easier to navigate.

That concludes my little research, I hope you'll find it insightful.

Thanks for reading!