DuckDuckGo’s anti-tracking tool for Android could be “even more powerful” than iOS

Cloud of app tracking companies around a Google logo and the DuckDuckGo app tracking tool
Enlarge / DuckDuckGo says that its App Tracking Protection automatically blocks many types of known trackers, while Apple’s App Tracking Transparency only blocks IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) and asks developers to block others.

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Privacy-focused search site DuckDuckGo added another way to prevent more of its data from reaching advertisers, by opening its Android App Tracking Protection to beta testers.

DuckDuckGo is positioning Application Tracking Protection as something like Apple App Tracking Transparency for iOS devices, but “even more powerful”. Enabling the service in the DuckDuckGo Android app (in the “More from DuckDuckGo” section) installs a local VPN service on your phone, which can then automatically start blocking trackers on DDG. public block list. DuckDuckGo says this happens “without sending application data to DuckDuckGo or other remote servers.”

DuckDuckGo's app tracking protection shows you details about what your Android apps are trying to send.
Enlarge / DuckDuckGo’s app tracking protection shows you details about what your Android apps are trying to send.

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Google recently gave Android users some native tools to prevent pointless tracking, including app-by-app location tracking approval Y a limited opt out of native ad tracking. Apple’s App Tracking Transparency asks if users want to block apps from accessing the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), but apps can still use the largest tracking networks in many applications to better profile the users of the application.

Allison Goodman, DuckDuckGo’s senior communications manager, told Ars Technica that App Tracking Protection needs the Android VPN permission to be able to monitor network traffic. When it recognizes a crawler from your block list, it “scans the destination domain for any outgoing requests and blocks them if they are on our block list and the requesting application is not owned by the same company that owns the domain.”

Goodman added that “much of the data collected by trackers is not controlled by [Android] permissions”, making App Tracking Protection a complementary offering.

App Tracking Protection was released a year ago in a limited beta version. DuckDuckGo has since updated the app to show you more information about what types of data trackers try to collect, “like your precise location, age, and a fingerprint from your phone.” Through its tests, DuckDuckGo has seen that an Android phone with 35 apps can see between 1,000 and 2,000 tracking attempts every day, sending data to more than 70 companies.

WIRED’s Matt Burgess i tried the app when it was releasedinstalling 36 apps on a new Pixel 6 Pro and signing in to about half of them:

These included the McDonald’s app, LinkedIn, Facebook, Amazon and BBC Sounds. … I left the phone alone for four days and didn’t use it at all. In 96 hours, 23 of these apps made more than 630 background tracking attempts.

When I opened the McDonald’s app, trackers from Adobe, cloud software company New Relic, Google, emotion tracking company Apptentive, and mobile analytics company Kochava tried to collect data about me. Opening the eBay and Uber apps, but not logging into them, was enough to trigger Google’s trackers.

DuckDuckGo notes that some apps are still excluded from tracking protection because they require tracking to work properly, particularly browsers and apps that have in-app browsers. When I installed DuckDuckGo protection on an Android phone early last year, I had trouble renting scooters and electric bikes from Lime and accessing the door opener service for my apartment building. Then again, that’s probably the kind of feedback DuckDuckGo is looking for in this beta version.

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