How will Apple monetize Siri

Mobile & Apps

In a recent interview with Axios on HBO, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked to answer a very uncomfortable question. He was asked how he reconciles his company's stance on privacy to take billions of dollars from Google to make it the default search engine for Safari (on both Mac and iOS). Google is certainly not the only company that deals in monetizing your online activities, but it is one of the biggest. And searching on Google is far from reaching the level of data protection that Apple demands from its products and services.

Tim Cook's answer was honest, if not satisfactory.

"I think their search engine is the best. Look what we did with the restrictions we built in. We have private web browsing. We have intelligent tracking prevention. What we've been trying to do is find ways to help our users in everyday life. It's not a perfect thing. I would be the very first person to say this. But it's a long way to go. "

While Cook was right to point out the benefits of Safari's intelligent tracking prevention, it has only been around since iOS 11 (and stricter tracking prevention wasn't introduced until iOS 12). Apple has been selling the placement in its systems to Google for years.

In short, Cook indicates that Apple is willing to compromise its privacy policy when it comes to a better user experience. You may or may not think this is okay, but it doesn't fit the way Apple handles its products and services.

The problem is, there is no good alternative. Apple could make Bing or Yahoo their default search engine, but they also don't meet Apple's privacy stance. And objectively, they're just not as good as Google, so why should you care?

In order for Apple to ensure that searching the web - perhaps the most important and common part of the computing experience - lives up to its own privacy values, it would need to build its own search engine with full control over how data is collected and how the web is crawled and crawled is indexed.

Apple should buy DuckDuckGo and rebuild it into Apple Search

There is another solution. DuckDuckGo is a search engine that does not collect, store, track, or share any personal information about you. The service does not even log IP addresses or the user agent that provides information about the browser used. At its core, then, it is a search engine that shares the same ideals with Apple in terms of data protection.

At that, DuckDuckGo is pretty good! Complex searches for advanced users aren't quite Google's par, and the machine isn't as good at digging into obscure forums for solutions to nifty technical problems. For the average search of the average user, DuckDuckGo delivers a high quality standard.

You can verify that yourself. You can easily change your Safari search in iOS on DuckDuckGo by going to "Settings> Safari> Search Engine", on the Mac you can find the option in the Safari settings under the "Search" tab.

Apple should buy DuckDuckGo, invest heavily in adding capacity and improving its web crawling capabilities, and renaming it Apple Search. It should still be available to everyone (not just Apple users) at search.apple.com, but most importantly, it should be the new default search engine for Safari on macOS and iOS and for Siri web search results.

Yes, Apple could start building its own search engine from scratch, but why? The acquisition of DuckDuckGo would give Apple a multi-year head start in building core search technology and a huge index of the entire web, as well as a talented team of engineers who share Apple's privacy philosophy.

What are the advantages for Apple

But why should Apple bother? After all, it would cost many millions of dollars to buy DuckDuckGo and tens or hundreds of millions in ongoing costs to develop and scale the search engine. Not to mention giving up the billions a year Google pays to be the standard.

But the profit could be enormous. First and foremost, it gives Apple control of one of the most critical user experiences on any device it sells: Internet browsing. Apple can ensure that its privacy and security goals are met for billions of searches performed by hundreds of millions of users every day. For a company that owns Apple's resources and ideals, that alone should be reason enough.

But there are other advantages as well. DuckDuckGo doesn't track user data, but it still makes money through advertising, it's just not personalized advertising. When you search for "vitamins" you get all of the expected organic search results (including shopping links) plus a couple of ads. These ads are targeted by the search term, not the user - DuckDuckGo still has no idea who you are or what other searches you've ever made. On the "Apple standard search engine" scale, however, this type of advertising revenue can make serious money.

A web search engine is also a huge treasure trove of data that could prove valuable in training Apple's many machine learning (ML) techniques. All search engines must continuously browse web pages and search, sort, and index their content. Otherwise, the service has no idea what to show users when they search. This is not a data breach as no information is collected about the users, only information is stored on public websites.

Machine learning algorithm training requires a lot of data, and it is the core function of all search engines to literally pick it up from the entire web. Having all of this data and the means by which it is harvested could be a huge boon to Siri, computational photography, augmented reality research, and many other AI and ML projects. Additionally, improving search results is the perfect problem machine learning can solve, and we all know how keen Apple is in applying ML and AI to all of its projects.

Let's put it this way: If access to Safari wasn't hugely valuable as the default search engine, Google wouldn't be paying Apple billions of dollars for that privilege. With its own search, Apple would not only give up billions in sales from Google, but would also win back something worth these billions from Google.

Buying DuckDuckGo would be the fastest, and probably the most economical, means of establishing a hypothetical Apple search. It would even be good for DuckDuckGo fans, as long as Apple keeps it available on the web and other web browsers, not just Apple device users. It would mean at least an order of magnitude more users and a huge increase in development resources (both money and talent) from a company that has exactly the same privacy position as DuckDuckGo. It's a win-win situation. (Macworld)