The CEO of DuckDuckGo testified that Apple was 'really serious' about replacing Google as the default search engine for private browsing on its products with DuckDuckGo.

According to DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg, "Our take was that they were actually really interested in this." He mentioned that the individuals they spoke to at Apple were DuckDuckGo users themselves who were interested in privacy. Weinberg's testimony indicated that DuckDuckGo and Apple had around 20 meetings and phone calls between 2016 and 2019, discussing the possibility of this change. Throughout these discussions, Apple's contract with Google to be the default search engine on its Safari browser was a significant point of contention.

The government's aim in this case is to demonstrate that Google's exclusive contracts with phone and browser manufacturers unfairly prevented competitors from entering the general search market. DuckDuckGo is a privately held company known for its privacy-focused search engine, which competes directly with Google. DuckDuckGo also offers other privacy products that aim to limit how websites can track users across the internet.

DuckDuckGo first received a response from Apple regarding its proposal to become the default search engine in private browsing mode in 2016. DuckDuckGo claimed that its search engine significantly reduces tracking compared to other search engines, even during private browsing. In 2017, DuckDuckGo secured a meeting with Craig Federighi, a senior vice president at Apple, to discuss its proposal. DuckDuckGo presented data about what Apple users expect from private browsing mode, which was considered compelling.

Weinberg's team suggested they could make DuckDuckGo the top search option for Apple users by integrating their content into search modules, including Apple News, Maps, Music, and TV. After the meeting, Weinberg left with the impression that "it went very well." DuckDuckGo executives returned for another meeting the following summer, presenting visuals of how their search engine would look once integrated into Apple services. Weinberg believed Apple was genuinely serious about potentially implementing the change in the next year's release.

However, recently unsealed testimony from Apple's side provides a somewhat different perspective. John Giannandrea, Apple's senior vice president of machine learning and artificial intelligence, testified that he was unaware of Apple considering the switch in default search. Nevertheless, he discussed potential drawbacks with other Apple executives, expressing concerns about DuckDuckGo's privacy marketing, which he believed was incongruent with the details. Giannandrea was worried that DuckDuckGo might need to share user information with Microsoft due to its arrangement to receive search data from Bing.