Your smartphone goes everywhere with you, and the data it contains describes every detail of your daily life. Naturally, advertisers want to use the marvel of mobile technology to improve ad targeting, and DuckDuckGo wants to put a stop to that. The company has announced a tracking blocker for its Android app. The feature isn’t live yet, but you can join the waitlist today.
When you open an app, the developer isn’t the only one getting data from you. Most apps — DuckDuckGo says 96 percent, to be exact — include third-party tracking code from the likes of Google and Facebook. These systems don’t need to spy on you 24/7, though. Even a trickle of data over weeks can give companies an idea of where you’re going, what you’re doing when you get there, and even when you go to bed.
Apple recently rolled out a feature called App Tracking Transparency (ATT), and DuckDuckGo says its upcoming feature is similar. On iOS, apps have to ask for permission to track you across other apps and services, and most people say “no.” Facebook, Twitter, Snap, and other big names are reporting billions in lost revenue following the release of Apple’s solution.
The DuckDuckGo system won’t be integrated into the OS, so it might not be as effective as Apple’s App Tracking Transparency. However, it’s free and will operate entirely on your device using Android’s built-in VPN functionality. Rather than route your data through a remote server like most VPN services, App Tracking Protection (ATP) will run in the background and alert you if it sees a request going to a third-party and block it. You can also disable ATP for select apps.
The user will get a running tally of the trackers that ATP blocks, as well as showing where those requests were going. DuckDuckGo says that in its testing, 87 percent of apps sent data to Google and 68 percent sent data to Facebook, and ATP can allegedly stop that without breaking apps. It doesn’t sound like this solution will be as elegant as Apple’s, but it’s the best we’ll get unless Google forgets that it’s an advertising company and adds its own version of tracking protection.
The feature is available in beta, but you can’t just start using it right away. You have to download the DuckDuckGo app and sign up for the waitlist (in settings). The company didn’t estimate how long it would take to get testers onboarded.
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