Anti-tracking search engine DuckDuckGo launched on Tuesday, an updated version of its browser extension and mobile app that will block ad tracking and will offer a set of other privacy features that will ensure safe and private web browsing.
The app and extensions are globally available for iOS, Android, Chrome, Safari and Firefox. DuckDuckGo says that the app and browser extension will also be available for Opera, but no launch date is disclosed yet.
“Our vision has been to set the standard of trust online,” says CEO and founder Gabe Weinberg.
The ad tracker blocking network is undoubtedly the best feature. Google and Facebook use such networks to create a precise profile for targeted ads on the basis of users’ browsing history.
“[To date] we’ve been really focused on the search engine because it’s really complicated to compete with Google in their core market. But now that we feel we can handle that we are making progress on this broader vision of protecting people across the Internet.”
DDG’s goal is to create a privacy tool that can be used by anyone, anywhere. A tool that can combine access to DDG’s private search engine with the tracker blocking network and other “privacy essentials.”
“What we’re really trying to do is move beyond a search box… What we realized from talking to people, especially over the last two years, is that privacy risks have gone completely mainstream,” said Gabe Weinberg.
“People really want a mainstream, simple solution for privacy.”
Moreover, DuckDuckGo will also serve privacy grade ratings for every website that is visited. These grades will be based on the number of hidden trackers a site allows and whether the site encrypts user’s connection.
Weinberg said that for the blocking of trackers from third parties, DuckDuckGo is using technology from Disconnect and EasyList but also “running through our own tests to try to add to that, as well as make it so that less websites break when you use it”
He said that DDG aims to work on the tool and add more privacy and blocking features with time, for example stopping hidden cryptocurrency miners from getting embedded on websites.
DDG’s rival Clizq, acquired a Ghostery anti-tracker tool last year that provides similar services as DDG’s latest privacy tool. Weinberg said that Clizq’s product is not “really integrated”.
“They’re more going after a pure browser situation whereas what we’re saying is, anywhere you are, on any device or major browser, we can augment it to help protect your privacy there in a seamless way,” he says.
According to Weinberg, the commercial web is getting filled up with trackers and data brokers that continuously stalk users. He said that people are waking up to the issue and have repeatedly complained.
“In the last couple of years mainstream people have really opened up to the idea that the Internet’s pretty creepy out there — and it’s in large part due to Google and Facebook,” he says. “And in particular that they’re amassing unprecedented amounts of personal information on each person.”
Google and Facebook have deployed their trackers on lots of websites to power their highly targeted advertising networks. Weinberg said that Google and Facebook’s use of online trackers are “at best, annoying and at worst causing major political upheavals, like the Russian ad interference.”
Weinberg also revealed that the trackers used by Google are on 76 percent of the top million pages, Facebook’s trackers on 24 percent while Twitter’s on just 12 percent.
“Literally any site you visit you’re likely to have Facebook, Google watching you there. That’s the piece that I think people are starting to wake up to now.”
Unlike typical tracker blockers, DDG’s tracker blocking product will reveal the names of the networks behind the trackers being blocked and “what their purpose is”.
An updated version of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) proposed by the European Union lawmakers will be applied from May. The regulation is focused on online profiling and data protection.
However, Weinberg believes that the regulation will not be much of a barrier for the two major commercial surveillance bodies none other than Google and Facebook.
“I’m a big fan of the regulation and I’m hopeful that a lot of these kinds of more hidden data brokers that don’t have consumer relationships are really going to get caught out with it because they can’t get consent,” he said. “But unfortunately, the way I see it is — Facebook and Google — I don’t think they seem like they’re going to be as affected by the regulation.
“Because while consent will be required in much more vigorous ways, I think that they’re going to push that through their products. And then people will end up consenting.”
“I think you need a different consumer backlash as well — either people literally leaving the services. Or, in this case, in between: Blocking all their hidden trackers across the web. And not waiting for them to take any major action to curb their surveillance,” he added.