DuckDuckGo, the search engine with a reputation for respecting its users’ privacy, has come under fire for entering a search agreement with Microsoft to allow the Big Tech giant to monitor certain details about its users on its browser.
According to Bleeping Computer, security researcher Zach Edwards detailed how even though DuckDuckGo blocks Google and Facebook trackers, the search platform provided an exception for Microsoft trackers to function.
“While DuckDuckGo does not store any personal identifiers with your search queries, Microsoft advertising may track your IP address and other information when clicking on an ad link for ‘accounting purposes’ but it is not associated with a user advertising profile,” Bleeping Computer explained.
DuckDuckGo claims that “this issue is occurring on browsers and pertains to non-DuckDuckGo websites,” as detailed by 9to5Mac.
The publication reports that tests performed on DuckDuckGo’s browser show that it allowed trackers related to Microsoft-owned platforms Bing and LinkedIn domains, while blocking all other trackers.
Edwards’ research received the attention of DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Wineberg, who explained that the browser intentionally allows Microsoft trackers on third-party websites due to an agreement it has with Microsoft.
"When you load our search results, you are completely anonymous, including ads. For ads, we worked with Microsoft to make ad clicks protected. From our public ads page, ‘Microsoft Advertising does not associate your ad-click behavior with a user profile’. For non-search tracker blocking (eg in our browser), we block most third-party trackers. Unfortunately our Microsoft search syndication agreement prevent us from doing more to Microsoft-owned properties. However, we have been continually pushing and expect to be doing more soon."
Following the publication of the Bleeping Computer report, DuckDuckGo CEO Wineberg stated that the company is working to remove the restriction from its agreement with Microsoft, and pledged to be more transparent in its app store descriptions.
“In addition, we are working with Microsoft to remove this limited restriction the article refers to. We're also working on updates to our app store descriptions to have more information. Hope this is helpful context,” Weinberg wrote on Twitter.
The publication was given a lengthier response from the company, which stated:
"We have always been extremely careful to never promise anonymity when browsing, because that frankly isn’t possible given how quickly trackers change how they work to evade protections and the tools we currently offer. 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. This blog post we published gets into the real benefits users enjoy from this approach, like faster load times (46% average decrease) and less data transferred (34% average decrease). Our goal has always been to provide the most privacy we can in one download, by default without any complicated settings."