DuckDuckGos Antitracking Android Tool Could Be “even More Powerful” Than IOS

DuckDuckGos Antitracking Android Tool Could Be “even More Powerful” Than IOS

Privacy-focused research site DuckDuckGo has added another way to prevent sharing more of your data with advertisers by opening up app tracking protections for Android beta testers.

DuckDuckGo markets App Tracking Protection as something like Apple's App Tracking Transparency for iOS devices, but "more powerful." Enabling the service in the DuckDuckGo Android app (under "Learn more about DuckDuckGo") installs a local VPN service on your phone, which can automatically start blocking trackers on the public DDG blacklist. DuckDuckGo says this happens "without sending request data to DuckDuckGo or other remote servers".

Google recently provided Android users with built-in tools to prevent arbitrary tracking, including allowing per-app location tracking and limited inline ad tracking. Apple's app tracking transparency asks whether users want to block apps from accessing identifiers for advertisers (IDFA), but apps can use a larger tracking network across multiple apps to better profile app users.

Alison Goodman, senior communications manager at DuckDuckGo, told Ars Technica that app tracking protection requires VPN permissions on Android to be able to monitor network traffic. When it recognizes a tracker on its blacklist, it "checks the target domain for any outgoing requests and if they are on our blacklist and the requesting app is not from the same company that owns the domain."

Goodman added that "much of the data collected by trackers is not controlled by [Android] permissions, which makes app tracking protection an additional offering."

Tracking protection for the program was launched as a limited beta a year ago. DuckDuckGo has since updated the app to show more information about the data it's trying to collect, "such as your exact location, age, and your phone's fingerprint." In tests, DuckDuckGo found that an Android phone with 35 apps can track 1,000 to 2,000 tracking attempts per day, sending data to more than 70 companies.

WIRED's Matt Burgess tested the app at launch, installing 36 apps on the new Pixel 6 Pro and accessing half of them;

These include the McDonald's app, LinkedIn, Facebook, Amazon and BBC Sounds. ...I left the phone alone for four days and didn't use it. Over 96 hours, 23 of these apps detected more than 630 attempts in the background.

When I opened the McDonald's app, trackers from Adobe, cloud software company New Relic, Google, mood tracker Apptentive, and mobile analytics company Cochava tried to collect data about me. It was enough to open the eBay and Uber apps to activate Google Footprint, but not sign in.

DuckDuckGo notes that some apps are still excluded from tracking protection because they require tracking to function properly, especially browsers and apps with built-in browsers. When I installed DuckDuckGo security on my Android phone early last year, I had trouble renting scooters and e-bikes from Lime and accessing my door unlock service. Again, perhaps this is the kind of feedback DuckDuckGo is looking for in this beta.

DuckDuckGo Search, Privacy and Me