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.

DuckDuckGo App Tracking Protection (beta)

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).

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  1. Not many apps can get me to stop using my VPN but I’m giving this a go. Downloaded, set it up as my default browser (sorry Vivaldi), set up App Tracking Protection.

    Love the animations and tour. It’s telling me everything I want to hear. Fact is that I trust DDG to do this well. We can’t even trust the anti-virus companies anymore so it’s nice that there are still a few companies with their reputations still intact.

    Thanks for the info on this. Honestly, I would not have noticed this on my own. I always thought of this app as “just” a browser.

    1. So I ran TikTok for about 20.. 35… scratch that… for about 45 minutes. For science… Scary results. It’s the only app I’ve run for now. It’ll be interesting to see what else is happening on my device and more importantly… how I’ll respond.

      DDG showed “83 tracking attempts blocked from 3 companies in TikTok app”.

      (1) Google, 24 attempts (Postal Code, City, Last Name, Boot Time, First Name, Email Address, etc…)

      (2) Integral Ad Science, 15 attempts (City, Postal Code, State, Device Memory, etc)

      (3) Oracle, 44 attempts (Network Carrier, Ad ID, Country, Cookies, etc).

    2. Ok… last comment on this. I just wanted to be fair re: my post about TikTok

      I ran a few more apps since yesterday.

      Daily Feed, RSS Reader : no tracking
      Slide: Reddit App : no tracking
      NPR: no tracking
      YR, weather app: no tracking

      PIX11 : New York, local news: 86 tracking attempts blocked from 5 companies. Google: 36 // Amazon: 18 // comScore: 14 // Segment.io: 6 // OneSignal: 12
      Drudge Report (DR) (there are a few apps like these):
      186 tracking attempts blocked from 1 company in “Report” app
      Google: 186
      The Verge: 48 tracking attempts from 1 company:
      Google: 48

      Those that tracked (Drudge, PIX11 and The Verge) collected (at least) the same information as TikTok. I don’t have facebook, twitter and other social apps – so can’t compare.

      Final thoughts… seems like DDG’s App Tracking Protection is a good start. We know that many apps do much more – copy clipboard, email addresses (there was one lone developer years ago that did this and even started emailing users – all w/o permission), etc…

      I would consider a paid VPN from DDG that had Tracking Protection built-in. I would love my own VPN provider to include Tracking Protection.

  2. So, similar to how adaway and netguard work on unrooted devices.
    I know it’s important to distinguish a self-hosted VPN from a third-party VPN, but I think the terminology I just used is more accurate than “not a real VPN”. Even DDG isn’t saying that.

  3. Their earlier iteration of this feature (which I believe only detected trackers, not blocked them) was really impressive. It’s interesting to learn which apps were the worst offenders.

    Interestingly, I learned that the Imgur app was BY FAR one of the worst offenders. They ran 20-30x more tracker events than anything else. It became painfully obvious to me why they recently decided to nerf their mobile website in a really scummy way (they redirect mobile traffic to a domain that doesn’t offer a desktop-version of the page, so you cant event request the desktop version), they want people to install the app to make money from them. Deleted my Imgur account in a heartbeat.

    If I still used Android, I would definitely try this new version out.