After months of backlash, DuckDuckGo’s browser will finally block Microsoft’s trackers. The company will also provide more transparency to its users by publishing a full list of blocked domains, updating its privacy dashboard to show when scripts are blocked or loaded, and creating a custom ad conversion system for its engine. search.
Wait, DuckDuckGo doesn’t block Microsoft trackers?
We learned on May 24 that DuckDuckGo intentionally left a Microsoft-sized “privacy hole” in your browser. Here is the gist; if you visit a site with built-in Microsoft trackers, DuckDuckGo Browser will not block those trackers. At least not for a few weeks.
After the security researcher discovered the problem @thezedwardsDuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg explained that the company has a complicated deal with Microsoft. In exchange for Bing search results, DuckDuckGo has to embed Microsoft advertising in its search engine (something the company has always made clear), and more importantly, it can’t block certain third-party Microsoft trackers in your browser.
Everything Will Change This Week
Evidently DuckDuckGo and Microsoft figured something out. In a new blog post, Gabriel Weinberg says that DuckDuckGo will “extend third-party tracking scripts that we block from loading on websites to include scripts from Microsoft.” This change will occur in DuckDuckGo navigation apps Y browser extensions “over the next week”. (Beta versions of the DuckDuckGo software will get the same treatment in September.)
For additional clarification, I asked a DuckDuckGo spokesperson which Microsoft domains the browser will block. They explained that all known Microsoft trackers will be blocked, as long as they meet DuckDuckGo’s criteria (some trackers are required for websites to function properly).
Also, DuckDuckGo gave me a complete list of blocked Microsoft domains:
- pest control-uc1.azureedge.net
Please note that for some of these domains, such as Bing or Linkedin, the DuckDuckGo browser will only block a subset of tracking-related requests. (Although I’m sure some people would love to never visit Bing or Linkedin.)
There is only one notable exception here; when you click on an ad in the DuckDuckGo search engine, it will not block the bat.bing.com domain. This enables ad conversion metrics, which let advertisers know if their ads are actually being clicked.
The good news is that DuckDuckGo plans to develop a privacy-focused ad conversion architecture. Other companies, including Apple and Mozilla, are taking on the same challenge. (Just don’t hold your breath. I imagine this will take a while.)
Improved transparency for DuckDuckGo users
Blocking Microsoft’s trackers is obviously the highlight of this announcement. But because DuckDuckGo made a big oopsie-poopsie, it’s changing the way it communicates with users.
First of all, DuckDuckGo now maintains a public list of all the trackers it blocks. This is an incredibly valuable amount of information – people can now compare DuckDuckGo’s block list to its competitors, or even track domains that are added or removed from this list. (I’ll link to the list when it’s published on August 5.)
DuckDuckGo is also updating its help page, which is more interesting than it sounds. The help page will display all of DuckDuckGo’s privacy protections (per app) in one place. More importantly, the help page will explain what privacy protections are possible on each platform and detail new features that are in development.
And finally, DuckDuckGo’s Privacy Dashboard will now display all third-party requests that are blocked or loaded on a web page. In some cases, it will also explain why these requests were either blocked or allowed to move freely.
Should you trust DuckDuckGo?
It’s good to see DuckDuckGo tackle their issues head-on. The company will not only block Microsoft trackers, but also provide more transparency to its users. The full list of blocked domains is especially helpful: people can not only see which domains DuckDuckGo blocks, but also compare the browser’s block list with other tools, like uBlock Origin.
But DuckDuckGo was caught in a big lie. Privacy-conscious people won’t forget that lie, and in fact, they may not trust DuckDuckGo’s new push toward transparency.
Rather than share my thoughts on the situation, I will say this; you will never enjoy complete privacy or anonymity on the Internet. Even if a company has your best interests in mind, which is never the case, it cannot offer full protection against corporate greed, advertisers, hackers, or governments.
You should continue to research, criticize and use privacy tools. They absolutely make a difference, even if they’re not perfect. But don’t put all your trust in some software.