DuckDuckGo added an app tracking protection feature to its Android app, also known as DuckDuckGo, in November 2021. The feature blocks system-wide tracking attempts on the Android device when enabled.
The feature was only available to certain users, and users had to enter a queue to access it; this still appears to be the case at the time of writing. I received my acceptance some time ago and have been using the feature since then on a Google Pixel 3a device (which I will be replacing next year as Google will end support at that time).
The article you are reading describes my experience with the feature and the app. Did this block the trackers on the device? Did I notice any issues while using it, for example apps not working properly?
The DuckDuckGo app must be installed on the Android device for the feature to work. Users must enable it in the app settings and allow its use as a virtual private network on the device; this is necessary to block trackers locally on the device. The main difference between a “real” VPN app that runs on the device and DuckDuckGo’s app tracker is that the latter is only active locally.
The privacy feature works in the background from this point on. You may notice the Android device’s VPN icon, which Android displays when VPN connections are active. DuckDuckGo’s app displays notifications if trackers are blocked, and you can check the history of blocked trackers in the app.
I use the Android test device lightly and have only installed a few apps on it. DuckDuckGo blocked 430 attempts to track 10 apps in the past week. Activity history lists the names of apps and trackers it attempted to use. The list is useful because it can reveal attempted tracking by applications.
The DuckDuckGo app includes options to turn protection on or off for specific apps. In fact, some apps, including Amazon Shopping, browsers, or Google News, are whitelisted and not blocked by default due to “known issues.” Protection can be turned on or off manually, but there is no guarantee that an app will function properly if you turn on protection if it is listed as having known issues.
Some apps didn’t work well after activating protection features manually, others worked, but some features that I wasn’t using might not work properly. It’s worth trying to find out if all the features you are using continue to work.
DuckDuckGo’s tracker blocking feature works well on Android devices, but some apps are whitelisted and DuckDuckgo admits that the feature won’t block all trackers, only those known to the app. Options to add custom lists would be welcome to enhance system-wide protection.
Users who don’t trust DuckDuckGo won’t use the feature, but there are alternatives, such as AdGuard, which users can use instead. Highlighting the use of the tracker in apps may convince some users to uninstall some of the offending apps on their devices. It is often also convenient to access websites directly in a browser on the device instead of using an app for this purpose.
Now you: Do you use any privacy protection apps or services on your devices?