In brief: DuckDuckGo portrays itself as a defender of user privacy through its search engine and browser. However, a security researcher has discovered that the company has an agreement with Microsoft that links asterisks to that promise. DuckDuckGo has since defended its relationship with Microsoft, which is trying to change it.
Update: DuckDuckGo contacted us for some clarification, although our original story was correct. On the other hand, we understand that there may be confusion between DuckDuckGo, the search engine and DuckDuckGo’s browser apps. CEO Gabriel Weinberg has published a lengthy post on Reddit explaining in more detail what’s going on if you’re interested.
The DuckDuckGo browser should block trackers from advertisers who sell and trade user data. However, earlier this week, security researcher Zack Edwards discovers that it allows Microsoft to track data through LinkedIn and Bing ad domains.
DuckDuckGo’s site has a page that admits it has an agreement that allows Microsoft to serve ads alongside search results. It states that Microsoft does not store or use ad click behavior data to profile users, but it does not list the trackers that send data through LinkedIn and Bing.
For non-search tracker blocking (e.g. in our browser), we block most third-party trackers. Unfortunately, our Microsoft search syndication agreement prevents us from doing more with Microsoft properties. However, we are constantly pushing and expect to do more soon.
— Gabriel Weinberg (@yegg) May 23, 2022
In response to those claims, DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg admitted that his agreement with Microsoft forces it to allow that company’s trackers. Weinberg predictably claims that his company is still more private than other browsers because it blocks most non-Microsoft third-party trackers. DuckDuckGo is negotiate with Microsoft to remove that clause and will change the descriptions of the mobile browser’s app store pages to better inform users.
This issue only affects the DuckDuckGo browser. The search engine, on the other hand, gives Microsoft no special treatment. It just goes to show that it’s probably impossible to remain completely anonymous online, although some protection may be better than none.