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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