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DuckDuckGo Search Engine Sees Another Top In-House Lawyer Depart

March 23, 2022, 7:02 PM

DuckDuckGo, an internet search engine that has made headlines in recent years by calling out the business practices of Big Tech, has watched two top lawyers leave its ranks within the past half-year.

Abigail Phillips, the company’s deputy general counsel, left DuckDuckGo this month. She’s now general counsel for Basecamp LLC, a software company that once received financial backing from Amazon.com Inc. founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

Phillips’ departure follows that of Megan Gray, a former general counsel and vice president of public policy at DuckDuckGo. Gray left the company last September to restart her own practice, GrayMatters Law & Policy.

Gray, who spent a little over three years at DuckDuckGo, confirmed her departure via email but declined further comment. A DuckDuckGo spokeswoman declined to discuss the company’s plans for naming a new legal chief.

DuckDuckGo, founded in 2008, has looked to fill a niche in the internet search space by vowing to protect the privacy of its users.

That mission was scrutinized this month in a story by Vox Media’s Recode, which delved into DuckDuckGo’s decision to join other large technology companies in down-ranking websites that propagate Russian disinformation, a controversial matter for its more politically conservative users. The New York Times reported in February on how DuckDuckGo has become a popular internet search platform for conspiracy theorists and right-wing social media influencers.

Recent rankings put DuckDuckGo seventh in search tools worldwide behind market leaders like Alphabet’s Google and Microsoft Corp.'s Bing.

Prior to joining DuckDuckGo, Gray spent a half-dozen years as an enforcement lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, where she worked on the regulator’s first consumer privacy penalty case against Google.

Google has been criticized by DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg, who has spoken out about the internet search giant’s allegedly anti-competitive business practices and how it tracks user data to provide targeted advertising.

In-House Turnover

DuckDuckGo’s sole remaining in-house lawyer appears to be associate general counsel Amy Shepherd, a former attorney for Freddie Mac and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission who was hired by the company last year.

Shepherd didn’t respond to a request for comment.

She joined DuckDuckgo last September, around the same time that Gray left the suburban Philadelphia-based company. Shepherd previously served as general counsel for the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute and the Good Food Institute, a pair of Arlington, Va.-based nonprofits.

Public records show that DuckDuckGo, whose official corporate name is Duck Duck Go Inc., has turned to Baker & Hostetler to handle trademark work. Gray, the company’s former legal chief, previously worked at that law firm.

Bloomberg Law data show that Cohen & Gresser has entered the only appearance for DuckDuckGo in a U.S. federal court, an antitrust case against Google.

Katherine McInnis, the company’s senior U.S. public policy manager, registered as a federal lobbyist for DuckDuckGo in February. She said via email that the company had no comment about its legal and public policy leadership.

Basecamp’s First Legal Chief

Phillips, the most recent senior lawyer at DuckDuckGo, is now the first-ever legal chief at Basecamp, formerly known as 37signals. Jason Fried, the privately held company’s co-founder and CEO, confirmed her hire.

The former Perkins Coie associate spent five years in-house at Yahoo Corp. and a year as a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Prior to joining DuckDuckGo in late 2020, Phillips spent more than two years as head of legal for the Mozilla Foundation, the San Francisco-based nonprofit arm of software company Mozilla Corp.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com