DuckDuckGo’s supposedly private browser caught allowing ad tracking
It all came down to a search syndication deal with Microsoft
When you think of privacy-friendly search engines, only one name comes to mind: DuckDuckGo. As niche as it is, the company has managed to spin its success in different directions, including a supposedly tracker-free privacy-focused browser for Android and iOS. DuckDuckGo’s partnership with Microsoft may have cost the company its “no tracking” service status, according to a new report.
As detailed by Bleeping Computer, privacy researcher Zach Edward recently discovered that while DuckDuckGo’s browser blocked sites like Facebook and Google from using trackers to retrieve user data, Microsoft’s websites, including LinkedIn and Bing, circumvented this blocking entirely. This defeats the main selling point of the search engine and, more specifically, undermines the whole reason the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser exists.
To the company’s credit, CEO and Founder Gabriel Weinberg was quick to admit that, yes, the browser allows Microsoft to bypass its in-browser tracking blockers, and it does it on purpose. According to Weinberg, it all comes down to the search syndication agreement the two companies hold, allowing DuckDuckGo to use Bing results in its returns. It’s the most important part of a mix of over 400 sources, including Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha. Weinberg also clarified that this contract only affects the browser, do not the search engine itself.
Yet when the app’s central selling point – literally in the top row of its Play Store listing – boils down to blocking trackers on behalf of the user, it’s hard to defend. Following Edward’s discovery on Twitter two days ago, Weinberg confirmed that the company was working with Microsoft to remove this particular stipulation from the agreement, while promising an update to the Play Store and App Store listings with a clarification. The CEO also provided Bleeping Computer with a statement pointing out that while its browser may not be perfect, it’s still significantly more private than the competition, while delivering faster loading times. As Weinberg says, DuckDuckGo never promised 100% anonymity through its browser. Hopefully, this is a chance for the company to be a little more upfront about what exactly consumers are getting.
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