DuckDuckGo is known for its privacy-first commitment to users on iOS, Android, browsers, and soon with its own Mac app. Now, a report puts in check the company’s privacy focus due to a search agreement with Microsoft that let the Redmond company continue tracking users on the browser.
As reported by Bleeping Computer, security researcher Zach Edwards posted on Twitter that “while DuckDuckGo blocks Google and Facebook trackers, it allowed Microsoft trackers to continue running.” The company explains that “this issue is occurring on browsers and only pertains to non-DuckDuckGo websites.”
Tests showed that the browser allowed trackers related to Bing and LinkedIn domains while blocking all other trackers. Edwards’ thread got the attention of DuckDuckGO CEO Gabriel Weinberg, which said the browser intentionally allows Microsoft trackers third-party sites due to a search syndication agreement with Redmond.
When you load our search results, you are completely anonymous, including ads. For ads, we worked with Microsoft to make ad clicks protected. From our public ads page, ‘Microsoft Advertising does not associate your ad-click behavior with a user profile’. For non-search tracker blocking (eg in our browser), we block most third-party trackers. Unfortunately our Microsoft search syndication agreement prevent us from doing more to Microsoft-owned properties. However, we have been continually pushing and expect to be doing more soon.
While it doesn’t seem that big of a deal since, technically, users aren’t tracked, DuckDuckGo’s focus on privacy put the company vision in check. In the same way, Apple promises privacy-first on its ecosystem, and it’s very controversial once you hear reports about third-party companies listening to HomePod requests. Or the company is all-in on privacy or it’s not.
After the Bleeping Computer story, DuckDuckGo sent a statement to the publication and 9to5Mac saying it will be clearer with the Microsoft partnership and keep improving users’ right to privacy:
“We have always been extremely careful to never promise anonymity when browsing, because that frankly isn’t possible given how quickly trackers change how they work to evade protections and the tools we currently offer. When most other browsers on the market talk about tracking protection they are usually referring to 3rd-party cookie protection and fingerprinting protection, and our browsers for iOS, Android, and our new Mac beta, impose these restrictions on third-party tracking scripts, including those from Microsoft.
What we’re talking about here is an above-and-beyond protection that most browsers don’t even attempt to do — that is, blocking third-party tracking scripts before they load on 3rd party websites. Because we’re doing this where we can, users are still getting significantly more privacy protection with DuckDuckGo than they would using Safari, Firefox and other browsers. This blog post we published gets into the real benefits users enjoy from this approach, like faster load times (46% average decrease) and less data transferred (34% average decrease). Our goal has always been to provide the most privacy we can in one download, by default without any complicated settings.”
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