DuckDuckGo’s Android app has been able to block websites you visit from using third-party trackers to monitor your behavior since 2018. Now the browser can also block trackers in all the other Android apps on your phone or tablet.
The company has rolled out a public beta of an App Tracking Protection feature that’s designed to detect and block third-party trackers from any app, whether its running in the foreground of background. The new feature is available as an optional setting in the free DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser app. But there are a few things to keep in mind before turning it on.
The first is that in order to detect trackers in third-party apps, App Tracking Protection reports itself as a VPN to Android, allowing it to run in the background and intercept all internet traffic to and from your device.
DuckDuckGo says that it’s not a real VPN, and the company never sends any of that data to its servers. Everything happens on your device. And the company does have a pretty good track record with protecting user privacy… that’s pretty much the whole point of DuckDuckGo.
But this does mean that you can’t use an actual VPN and DuckDuckGo’s App Tracking Protection simultaneously, because Android only allows you to enable one VPN at a time. So the company recommends VPN users just enable the feature when they’re not using their VPN.
The second is that App Tracking Protection only detects and blocks known third-party trackers, so it’s possible that some may get through… although DuckDuckGo expects its detection to get better over time as more trackers are added to its blocklist.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that App Tracking Protection is disabled by default in some apps, including other web browsers, because they may not function properly when it’s turned on. But you can manually enable or disable protection for every app on your phone from the App Tracking Protection settings toggles.
Once enabled, App Tracking Protection runs in the background and not only blocks trackers, but also provides real-time updates letting you know just how many trackers have been detected and blocked… and that really might be one of the most interesting things about the new tool.
For example, it’s one thing to read on DuckDuckGo’s blog that “a phone with 35 apps can experience between 1,000-2,000 tracking attempts every day and contact 70+ different tracking companies,” but it’s another to realize that apps on my phone that I almost never actually use are among those that are waking up periodically and trying to ping a third-party server (I’m looking at you, Speedtest).