Turns Out DuckDuckGo’s Browser Might Not Be As Private as We Thought

Turns Out DuckDuckGo’s Browser Might Not Be As Private as We Thought
The DuckDuckGo logo in front of eye emojis. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

The DuckDuckGo browser allows Microsoft trackers to run on third-party websites, according to a report.

As originally reported by Bleeping Computer, DuckDuckGo allows Microsoft to track user data on the browser (not to be confused with the DuckDuckGo search engine), due to a syndication agreement between the two companies.

DuckDuckGo has always found pride and a gap in the internet searching market by not collecting data on its users. It provides contextual advertisements from partners instead of cookie and tracking-based ads, based on user data and user profiling (which Google uses), however the earlier mentioned agreement changes things, surrendering user data to Microsoft.

This was uncovered by security researcher Zach Edwards, who posted his findings on Twitter.

DuckDuckGo’s CEO, Gabriel Weinberg, was quick to respond to the Twitter thread Edwards created.

“If you click on a Microsoft-provided ad, you will be redirected to the advertiser’s landing page through Microsoft Advertising’s platform. At that point, Microsoft Advertising will use your full IP address and user-agent string so that it can properly process the ad click and charge the advertiser,” DuckDuckGo says in the help page it created about the issue.

So, as per an agreement between the privacy-centric search engine and Microsoft, you’re actually being tracked, just not in the same, information-heavy way that you might be tracked on Google Chrome.

Although DuckDuckGo doesn’t collect information on you or create a profile on your search behaviours, the Bleeping Computer report explains the browser does (currently) allow Microsoft trackers to follow you across the web. Trackers related to “bing.com” and “linkedin.com” (both owned by Microsoft) are allowed on the DuckDuckGo browser. Yikes.

Weinberg later clarified that this tracking only occurs in the DuckDuckGo browser and that the search engine itself doesn’t have the same issues.

As pointed out by Bleeping Computer in the original report, it’s a bit sus that DuckDuckGo only clarified Microsoft app tracking issues after a researcher uncovered it. Additionally, we’ve reached out to Microsoft for comment.

Further, Weinberg provided Bleeping Computer with a statement after the news broke, saying that the company has been “extremely careful to never promise anonymity”.

A further snippet of the statement reads:

“When most other browsers on the market talk about tracking protection, they are usually referring to 3rd-party cookie protection and fingerprinting protection, and our browsers for iOS, Android, and our new Mac beta, impose these restrictions on third-party tracking scripts, including those from Microsoft.

What we’re talking about here is an above-and-beyond protection that most browsers don’t even attempt to do — that is, blocking third-party tracking scripts before they load on 3rd party websites. Because we’re doing this where we can, users are still getting significantly more privacy protection with DuckDuckGo than they would using Safari, Firefox and other browsers.”

Weinberg also said that DuckDuckGo is working with Microsoft to remove this “restriction”.

DuckDuckGo does do a pretty good job as far as privacy goes by not creating profiles of its users and by not tracking users from webpage to webpage. That being said, this is obviously a misstep from the privacy-focused company, and hearing from the CEO that the business has “never promised anonymity” is a bit of a surprise, to be sure.

If you’re disappointed in DuckDuckGo, it might be time to start thinking about a browser alternative.