DuckDuckGo: Web Browsers Don’t Prevent Tracking

Posted on March 30, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Web browsers with 12 Comments

Upstart search engine maker DuckDuckGo today is claiming that the tracking protection functionality built-in to most web browsers doesn’t actually work. Fortunately, it has a free solution that does work, in the form of an extension that works in most browsers.

“The issue is that once such trackers are loaded in your browser, they have a ton of ways to track you beyond just third-party cookies (e.g., by another form of cookies called first-party cookies, by your IP address, and much, much more),” the firm explains. “And many of these mechanisms cannot be turned off because the browser needs them to properly function.”

Most web browsers now block third-party cookies by default, and some offer additional protections against cross-site trackers. But neither of these mechanisms is enough to completely block trackers from doing their thing. As DuckDuckGo puts it, “tracking is still tracking, and the most prevalent cross-site trackers (those from Google and Facebook) are certainly still tracking you.”

I experienced this anecdotally last year after I switched to Microsoft Edge and noticed that I was still being tracked despite Edge’s widely-promoted tracking protection functionality. The answer, I found, was that I couldn’t trust browser-based tracking protection—with Brave being a possible exception—and that I’d need to use one or more extensions to finish the job.

Perhaps not surprisingly, DuckDuckGo offers one such extension.

“To really stop a cross-site tracker, the kind that tries to track your activity from site to site, you have to prevent it from actually loading in your browser in the first place,” the company writes. “This is a critical blocking feature that we provide in our all-in-one privacy browser extension for desktop ChromeFirefoxEdge, and Safari, as well as in our own mobile browser for iOS and Android.”

Blocking trackers like this isn’t just about privacy: DuckDuckGo reports that its tracker blocker improves browser performance by up to 46 percent because it’s loading fewer files and transferring less data every time it displays a web page.

“Regular privacy browser tech is like locking the back door of the house (third-party cookies) and a few windows (related restrictions) but leaving the front door wide open (IP address) along with the rest of the windows (many other forms of tracking including first-party cookies),” DuckDuckGo explains. “To stop these trackers effectively, you have to board up the whole house and not let them see inside at all.”

If you want to learn more about this, I strongly recommend reading the DuckDuckGo post, which includes a detailed description of how cross-site trackers work and how it’s possible to really stop them.

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Comments (12)

12 responses to “DuckDuckGo: Web Browsers Don’t Prevent Tracking”

  1. webdev511

    Just get a Pi-Hole and add some common lists. uBlock Origin is an option as well, but none are going to be 100% effective. :(

  2. crunchyfrog

    This reads ominously enough but is tracking really something we need to be afraid of in this country? Does it really matter if Google or FaceBook knows what we like to see or buy and helps to funnel ads that are relevant to our browsers?

    • anoldamigauser

      In reply to crunchyfrog:

      Beyond the performance penalty, there is the creepy factor. Facebook and Google will let you see the information they have about you, and it is voluminous. What they will not let you see is what inferences they draw from that data to serve you those ads. Then there is the the issue that this data manages to find its way to data aggregation firms, with which you have no relationship, nor do you know how they got the information. Then there is the fact that the data can be purchased or subpoenaed. Law enforcement here in the US tends to prefer the former, because it keeps them from having to go to the trouble of getting a warrant, or running afoul of the 4th Amendment.

      At the end of the day, if you do not have privacy, you cannot have freedom.

    • haghighat

      In reply to crunchyfrog:

      This tracking can have way worst outcomes than "relevant" Ads, like the 2016 election, and the Cambridge Analytica case.

  3. crunchyfrog

    This really is a game of, "Whack-a-mole", isn't it?

  4. miamimauler

    Malwarebytes Browser Guard is another useful tool in tackling the trackers.

  5. lwetzel

    Maybe they have a point but then again they lock you into their search engine.

  6. ken10

    IoT combined with the Internet is an Orwellian realization in a more consumer friendly form.

  7. Singingwolf

    That's why I use 1.1.1.3 DNS - on portable and desktop devices. Only thing that works.


    Oh and the hosts file:


    pgl. yoyo .org

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