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DuckDuckGo in hot water over hidden tracking agreement with Microsoft

A padlock against a black computer screen.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

DuckDuckGo may face a user backlash after security researchers discovered a hidden tracking agreement with Microsoft.

The privacy-focused company offers a search engine that claims not to track people’s searches, or behavior, and also doesn't build user profiles that can be used to display personalized advertising.

Search engine aside, DuckDuckGo also offers a mobile browser (opens in new tab) of the same name, but this has raised concerns, as although this promises to block hidden third-party trackers, some from a certain tech giant are allowed to continue operating.

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Search syndication agreement

Namely, while Google’s and Facebook’s trackers are being blocked, those of Microsoft are allowed to continue running. Zach Edwards, the security researcher who first discovered the issue, later also found that trackers related to the bing.com and linkedin.com domains were also being allowed through the blocks. 

The news quickly drew in crowds of dissatisfied users, with DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg, soon chiming in to confirm the authenticity of the findings. 

Apparently, DuckDuckGo has a search syndication agreement with the software giant from Redmond, with Weinberg adding that the restrictions are only found in the browser, and are not related to the search engine. 

What remains unknown is why the company who is known for its transparency decided to keep this agreement a secret for as long as it could.

In a statement sent to BleepingComputer (opens in new tab), Weinberg said that DuckDuckGo offers “above-and-beyond protection” other browsers don’t even think of doing, but that the company “never promised” full anonymity (opens in new tab) when browsing. 

"We have always been extremely careful to never promise anonymity when browsing, because that frankly isn’t possible given how quickly trackers change how they work to evade protections and the tools we currently offer," he added.

"When most other browsers on the market talk about tracking protection, they are usually referring to 3rd-party cookie protection and fingerprinting protection, and our browsers for iOS, Android, and our new Mac beta, impose these restrictions on third-party tracking scripts, including those from Microsoft. What we're talking about here is an above-and-beyond protection that most browsers don't even attempt to do — that is, blocking third-party tracking scripts before they load on 3rd party websites."

"Because we're doing this where we can, users are still getting significantly more privacy protection with DuckDuckGo than they would using other browsers.” 

Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.