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For the most part yes. They could be getting search results from other paid search engine APIs but you have to balance cost of providing results with ad/affiliate revenue.

What are the other "paid search engines"?

You can get paid API search results from Google and Yandex for example just like with Bing (similar prices, different limits). And you can even use Wolfram Alpha API for certain types of queries ("what is apple's average revenue per employee?").

Doing all these would allow you to surface better results than using just one. But it comes at a cost.

Google and Bing are the only ones that matter and you can’t compete with Google by paying them for their search results.

Yandex is Russian and has pretty poor results. And you’d be naive to think that those of us concerned about privacy would ever touch something built on top of it.

In other words there aren’t paid search engines that DuckDuckGo could turn to. Unless they build their own crawler, the only game in town is Bing.

There is no difference in terms of building something on top of Bing or Yandex as your private data never touches their servers. All they get is anonymized stream of queries, in this case from DuckDuckGo.

And yes you can compete with Google (for a certain target group) by paying them for their search results. Results are just a distribution channel, it is what you do with them that matters. For example Google and DuckDuckGo both choose to show you ads and affiliate links but that is hardly the only option.

How do you know that your personal data never touches those third party servers?

Sorry, but I don't trust DuckDuckGo that much and when technology fails, I'd rather use a search engine based in a country that has rule of law ;-)

I bet bing hands over results almost for free.

They're desperate to collect user click data because they know that's the only way they'll have any chance of success. Even anonymized, that's very valuable data.

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