DuckDuckGo Follows Apple’s Lead, Rolls Out App Tracking Protection


DuckDuckGo has made good on its plans to introduce a feature for Android that blocks ad trackers. With the newly launched App Tracking Protection, users of the world’s most widely used mobile platform now have the ability to block app tracking that allows online advertisers, data brokers, and third-party advertising networks to create Internet users’ digital profiles.

Android users have reason to rejoice now that DuckDuckGo, the developer of the privacy-focused browser and search engine of the same name, has released a new tool to block third party trackers. Called App Tracking Protection, the tool comes more than six months after iPhone users got the ability to block companies and app developers from tracking them.

User tracking through mobile apps has been a serious privacy concern for years. This is why Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) initiative, that rolled out with the iOS 14.5 in April, was wholeheartedly welcomed by iOS users. For obvious reasons, online advertisers such as Facebook, data brokers, and many third-party advertising networks opposed the initiative.

But as expected, it proved to be a major hit with users, 98% of those in the U.S.Opens a new window (89% globally) opted out from being tracked. By September, the number fell to 85% in the U.S. and 79% globally, but it is still significant enough to cause a massive headache to advertisers, etc. So much so that just four companies, viz., Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube cumulatively leaked nearly $10 billion in revenues in the second half of 2021.

Granted two of these companies are some of the biggest names in online advertising, but it goes to show how much user tracking and data sharing including IDFA (Identifier For Advertisers) was/is fundamental to business. And that’s just a piece of the cake considering iOS takes up 28.21% of the total mobile OS market share as of October 2021.

Meanwhile, Android commands 71.09%Opens a new window of the global smartphone market, calling into question why its owner and developer Google hasn’t provided the same option in its highly popular mobile OS. Nonetheless, thanks to DuckDuckGo’s announcement, Android users now have the option to block tracking cookies and ensure privacy.

All they need to do is enable the App Tracking Protection (ATP) option available in the DuckDuckGo browser app after downloading itOpens a new window . But don’t worry, the feature works across the Android device and will block all invasive apps and not just the browser.

A similar feature release is on the cards with the newly released Android 12. Announced in June this year, Google saidOpens a new window users will be able to opt out of “interest-based advertising or ads personalization” late in 2021.

While the feature is yet to materialize, Google said if users opt out of tracking, their Advertising IDs (equivalent to Apple’s IDFA) will not be available and will deliver a string of zeros to advertisers, etc. This is a welcome development, but it remains to be seen whether Google’s new privacy feature will be at the same level as ATT or ATP.

See More: Worried About Online Privacy? Check Out These 5 Privacy-Centric Browsers

For instance, upon enabling ATP, which is still available as Beta in the DuckDuckGo browser, the feature “will detect when your Android apps are about to send data to third-party tracking companies found in our app tracker dataset, and block those requests.” The feature will continue to run in the background as users use other apps.

DuckDuckGo estimated that 96% of the popular free Android apps had hidden third-party trackers. Of these, 87% sent data to Google and 68% sent data to Facebook.

“App Tracking Protection is not a virtual private network (VPN), though your device will recognize it as one. This is because App Tracking Protection uses a local ‘VPN connection,’ said DuckDuckGo. “However, App Tracking Protection is different from VPNs because it never routes app data through an external server.”

Presently, we’re on the ATP waitlist and are yet to see how exactly the feature works. DuckDuckGo says ATP will allow users to see trackers being blocked in real time, and will also provide a view into which tracking networks they tried to send data to. It is unclear if ATP, like Apple’s ATT, will allow the users themselves to select which app trackers to block. ATT pushes a prompt for the user to select whether they’d like to block the app.

Source: DuckDuckGoOpens a new window

Financially speaking, there’s bound to be an impact. According to eMarketerOpens a new window , mobile ads will contribute 45.6% of the total media ad spend and 74.9% of the total digital ad spend in 2021. But since DuckDuckGo’s ATP is not a built-in tool, and will not pop up when a user opens an app, the measurable impact and the disruption remains limited, for now.

To get ATP, go to the Android DuckDuckGo browser > Settings > App Tracking Protection (Beta) and tap the ‘Join the Private Waitlist’ button.

DuckDuckGo, which added $100 million to its coffers last year, added, “We decided to release App Tracking Protection in beta while we work on getting the experience just right. While it’s in beta, there are a small number of apps being excluded because they rely on tracking to work properly. We hope to reduce this list even further over time.‌‌”

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