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DuckDuckGo and the corporate incentives of donating to noble tech projects

In light of DuckDuckGo's sizable donations to several free and open source tech projects, here's why more for-profit companies should consider these philanthropic efforts money well spent.

stacks of money
Credit: Jezperklauzen/Thinkstock

The privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo has just donated $125,000 to free and open source projects with a (not surprisingly) heavy focus on privacy and security initiatives. The company itself chose half of the projects that would receive a chunk of the total donation, with the other half selected from those nominated by the community.

$25k went to SecureDrop, a project previously known as "DeadDrop" (and which The New Yorker refers to as "StrongBox"). The whole point of SecureDrop is to provide a secure, anonymous document submission system for whistleblowers providing information to publications. This is a project I consider to be astoundingly important – so much so that I have been tempted to set up my own SecureDrop instance. (Except that nobody ever sends me anything important. So I probably don't actually need it at the moment.)

Another $25k each went to supporting Privacy Badger (the browser privacy add-on from the Electronic Frontier Foundation), GPGTools, TAILS (a Debian-based Linux distribution focused on using the Internet anonymously) and Girl Develop It (a program which helps to get more women involved in open source software development).

This isn't the first year that DuckDuckGo has donated to free and open source projects – they've done this for the last few years – but it does represent the largest contribution to date. The 2015 contribution of $125k is over three times larger than the 2014 donation total of $40k, which suggests, rather strongly, that the company is continuing to experience solid growth.

I have two reasons for bringing this whole thing up.

The first is to simply give the team over at DuckDuckGo a big, virtual high-five. Seeing a for-profit company give so generously to worthy, freedom-loving projects gives my faith in humanity a little boost. That's not to say that other companies don't contribute to (and donate to) open source projects, but $125k, for a small company with roughly 20 employees, is a pretty sizable chunk of change.

They could have used that money to hire another full-time software developer. Or run a series of advertisements. But they didn't. They donated it. And that's damned noteworthy.

Which brings me to my second reason for writing this article.

More companies should do things like this. Not only because it's a noble, wonderful thing to do. But as means of advertising and marketing their products and brands. Seriously. It makes good business sense.

Think of it this way…

DuckDuckGo made this announcement on Friday (a terrible day to announce things, internet traffic-wise) and I found myself writing this on Saturday night. Just a little over 24 hours later and this announcement has already created a flurry of activity on Reddit, including at least one post that made it to the front page of Reddit in a hurry.

With a little nurturing, this story has serious legs. All of the projects that received the donations are sure to announce as much to their respective communities. Free and open source advocates around the world are likely to re-share those stories to their own social networks. Other technology journalists are sure to cover some aspect of this story, just as I am (heck, I can think of two or three of my writing buddies who are likely to be writing their versions of this very article at this exact moment).

And all of that is pure, concentrated awesome. Not only does it help the marketing efforts of a cool company, and raise awareness of some open source projects that truly deserve it, it also helps to remind others to donate to the projects that matter to them while, simultaneously, encouraging other companies to (at least consider) taking similar actions.

I'm smiling right now. Thanks, DuckDuckGo.

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