Search engine DuckDuckGo sees another top in-house lawyer leave

DuckDuckGo, an Internet search engine that has made headlines in recent years by exposing Big Tech’s business practices, has seen two top lawyers leave its ranks in the past half year.

Abigail Phillips, the company’s assistant general counsel, left DuckDuckGo this month. She is now general counsel for Basecamp LLC, a software company that once received financial support from Inc. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

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

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

DuckDuckGo, founded in 2008, has sought to occupy a niche in the internet search space by committing to protect privacy of its users.

This mission was examined this month in a story by Recode of Vox Media, which looked at DuckDuckGo’s decision to join other big tech companies in declassified websites that spread Russian disinformation, a contentious issue for its more politically conservative users. The New York Times communicated in February on how DuckDuckGo became a popular internet search platform for conspiracy theorists and right-wing social media influencers.

Recent leaderboards put DuckDuckGo seventh in search tools around the world behind market leaders like Alphabet’s Google and Microsoft Corp’s Bing.

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

Google has been criticized by DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg, who has speak over the internet search giant’s allegedly anti-competitive business practices and how it tracks user data offer targeted advertisements.

Internal turnover

DuckDuckGo’s only remaining in-house attorney 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 did not respond to a request for comment.

She joined DuckDuckgo last September, around the same time 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, two nonprofit organizations based in Arlington, Virginia.

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

Bloomberg Law data shows that Cohen & Gresser presented DuckDuckGo’s only appearance in US federal court, a antitrust case against Google.

Katherine McInnis, the company’s senior director of US public policy, registered as federal lobbyist for DuckDuckGo in February. She said by email that the company had no comment on her legal and public policy leadership.

First Head of Basecamp Legal

Phillips, DuckDuckGo’s newest senior counsel, is now Basecamp’s first-ever chief legal officer, formerly known as 37signals. Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of the private company, has confirmed his hiring.

The former Perkins Coie partner spent five years internally at Yahoo Corp. and a year as a senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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