DuckDuckGo’s supposedly private browser caught permitting ad tracking

It all came down to a search syndication agreement with Microsoft

When you think of privacy-friendly search engines, only one name comes to mind: DuckDuckGo. As niche as it may be, the company has managed to spin its success in different directions, including a privacy-focused browser supposedly free from trackers for Android and iOS. DuckDuckGo’s partnership with Microsoft may have cost the company its status as a “no tracking” service, according to a new report.

As detailed by Bleeping Computer, privacy researcher Zach Edward recently discovered that, while DuckDuckGo’s browser stopped sites like Facebook and Google from using trackers to scrape user data, Microsoft’s websites — including LinkedIn and Bing — bypassed this blockade entirely. It goes against the search engine’s biggest selling point, and more specifically, undermines the entire reason the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser exists.


To the company’s credit, CEO and founder Gabriel Weinberg was quick to admit that, yes, the browser does allow Microsoft to bypass its tracking blockers within the browser, and it’s doing so 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 significant part of a mix of over 400 sources, including Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha. Weinberg also clarified that this contract only affects the browser, not the search engine itself.

Still, when the app’s central selling point — literally in the first line of its Play Store listing — comes down to blocking trackers on the user’s behalf, 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 also promising an update to the Play Store and App Store listings with a clarification. The CEO also provided Bleeping Computer with a statement highlighting that, while its browser may not be perfect, it’s still far more private than the competition — all while boasting faster load times. As Weinberg says, DuckDuckGo has never promised 100 percent anonymity through its browser. Hopefully, this is a chance for the company to be a little more upfront about exactly what consumers are getting.

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