In an interesting online exchange, DuckDuckGo CEO and cofounder Gabriel Weinberg admitted that his firm’s web browser is forced to allow Microsoft trackers through. But despite the outrage—after all, DuckDuckGo promotes its products and services for their privacy prowess—it’s not as bad as it looks.
It all started on Twitter, of course.
“Sometimes you find something so disturbing during an audit, you’ve gotta check/recheck because you assume that something must be broken in the test,” privacy and data supply chain researcher Zach Edwards tweeted. “But I’m confident now. The new DuckDuckGo browsers for iOS/Android don’t block Microsoft data flows for LinkedIn or Bing.”
“When you load our search results, you are completely anonymous, including ads,” he tweeted in return. “For ads, we worked with Microsoft to make ad clicks protected. For non-search tracker blocking (e.g. in our browser), we block most third-party trackers. Unfortunately, our Microsoft search syndication agreement prevents us from doing more to Microsoft-owned properties. However, we have been continually pushing and expect to be doing more soon.”
I guess we could debate whether Microsoft tracking you is “better” than Google doing so—and given their relative market positions, I will argue it’s less serious, for sure—but the bigger issue, perhaps, is what the alternative is. And that’s pretty clear: you should be using anti-tracking extensions no matter which browser you’re using. That’s easy enough on desktop, but the situation on mobile is a bit murkier since most mobile web browsers don’t support extensions. But that’s starting to change.
(You may recall that I quickly ran afoul of the new Microsoft Edge’s tracking protection functionality when the browser launched two years back. Long story short: if you want to be protected against trackers, you can’t just trust that particular browser.)
Given that DuckDuckGo is transparent about its behavior with regard to its Microsoft partnership, I’m not sure this deserves the level of outrage you can see in the Twitter comments. But if you’re concerned about online privacy, it’s important to know about this and what your options are. And it appears that with DuckDuckGo, yes, Microsoft is “tracking” you. But you are anonymous, which I feel lives up to the letter of its privacy claims.