DuckDuckGo is a popular alternative to search engines run by tech giants, like Google or Microsoft’s Bing, as it does not track sensitive data like users’ IP addresses.
It also provides cleaner results in some cases, such as with file-sharing sites used to stream and torrent films and music for free, which are typically censored or downranked by competitors.
A recent report by piracy news site TorrentFreak claimed that DuckDuckGo had backtracked on this policy and had begun to remove search results for The Pirate Bay, FMovies and several YouTube ripping services.
DuckDuckGo chief executive Gabriel Weinberg denied these claims, and said any search issues for file-sharing sites resulted from a bug with one of its custom search features.
“Hoping to clear up some misconceptions about our private search engine,” the DuckDuckGo boss wrote on Twitter.
“First, there is a completely made up headline going around this weekend. We are not ‘purging’ any media outlets from results. Anyone can verify this by searching for an outlet and see it come up in results.”
(All torrent and streaming sites tested by The Independent using DuckDuckGo appeared as the top result when searching from them.)
Mr Weinberg continued: “Similarly, we are not ‘purging’ YouTube-dl or The Pirate Bay and they both have actually been continuously available in our results if you search for them by name (which most people do). Our site: operator (which hardly anyone uses) is having issies which we are looking into.”
It is the second time in recent months that DuckDuckGo has been accused of actively altering search results, having downranked sites spreading Russian propaganda following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The move faced criticism from far right figures for allegedly abandoning free speech principles, a stance that DuckDuckGo refuted.
“PRivacy is our top priority, not supporting any particular poliotical or ideological point of view,” a spokesperson for DuckDuckGo told ReCode at the time. “This isn’t censorship. It’s just search rankings.”