In Wake of Controversy, DuckDuckGo to Block Microsoft Trackers

Posted on August 5, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Web browsers with 0 Comments

DuckDuckGo announced that it will soon begin blocking Microsoft trackers in its privacy-focused web browsers and extensions.

“I’ve heard from a number of users and understand that we didn’t meet their expectations around one of our browser’s web tracking protections,” DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg writes in the announcement post. “So today we are announcing more privacy and transparency around DuckDuckGo’s web tracking protections.”

DuckDuckGo didn’t meet its users’ expectations—or the promise in its marketing—because it was silently allowing Microsoft trackers through its tracker blocking because of a search and ad partnership with the software giant. Which is a situation that only came to light because a privacy and data supply chain researcher discovered this unexpected activity during an audit. It was, as Brave CEO Brendan Eich noted at the time, a “revenue quid pro quo,” and the type of thing his own firm doesn’t and would never do.

But now DuckDuckGo will no longer do it as well.

Over the next week, DuckDuckGo will expand the blocking of third-party tracking scripts to include those generated by Microsoft in its browser apps on Android and iOS and browser extensions on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, and Opera. Put simply, DuckDuckGo will finally do what everyone thought it was already doing and block Microsoft scripts just as it blocks those from Google, Facebook, and other malicious actors who quietly sell our personal data and behavior to advertisers.

“This web tracking protection is not offered by most other popular browsers by default and sits on top of many other DuckDuckGo protections,” Mr. Weinberg notes. To be clear, he is leaving out Brave in his description of “other popular browsers,” as Brave does block these and other trackers by default.

As for transparency, Weinberg explains that DuckDuckGo previously excluded Microsoft from its tracker blocking efforts because of “a policy requirement related to [its] use of Bing as a source for our private search results.” And he says that DuckDuckGo “have not had, and do not have, any similar limitation with any other company.”

Weinberg also explains how DuckDuckGo uses Microsoft for advertising, and that the two firms are moving from relying on for evaluating ad effectiveness to a new system that is can be externally validated as non-profiling. “We think this work is important because it means we can improve the advertising-based business model that countless companies rely on to provide free services, making it more private instead of throwing it out entirely,” he says.

And DuckDuckGo is now making its tracker protection list publicly available so anyone can see for themselves what we’re blocking and report any issues.

I’ve always liked the idea of DuckDuckGo and these changes, which should have been unnecessary, bring the company and its real-world efforts more in line with what I think they should do and what I thought they were doing. Whether the breach of trust triggered by their quiet deal with Microsoft will be problematic over the long term is, of course, unclear. But suffice to say I did move to the Brave web browser in the wake of the original tracker news and will remain a user and advocate of that product. I hope that those who choose DuckDuckGo have a similarly positive experience.

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