My experience with DuckDuckGo's App Tracking Protection feature
DuckDuckGo added an app tracking protection feature to its Android application, also called DuckDuckGo, back in November 2021. The feature blocks tracking attempts system-wide on the Android device when enabled.
The feature was made available to some users only, and users had to enter a queue to get access to it; this seems to be the case still 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 replace next year, as Google will end support for it then).
The article that you are reading describes my experience with the feature and app. Did it block trackers on the device? Did I notice any issues while using it, e.g. apps that did not work properly?
The DuckDuckGo application needs to be installed on the Android device for the feature to work. Users need to enable it in the settings of the app and allow it to be used as a virtual private network on the device; this is necessary for it to block trackers locally on the device. The main difference between a "real" VPN app that runs on the device and DuckDuckGo's App Tracking is that the latter is active locally only.
The privacy feature works in the background from that moment on. You may notice the VPN icon of the Android device, which Android displays when VPN connections are active. DuckDuckGo's app displays notifications if trackers are blocked, and you may check the history of blocked trackers in the application.
I use the Android test device lightly only, and have only a few apps installed on it. DuckDuckGo blocked 430 tracking attempts of 10 applications in the past week. The activity history lists the names of the applications and the trackers that it attempted to use. The listing is useful, as it may uncover tracking attempts by apps.
DuckDuckGo's application includes options to enable or disable the protection for specific applications. In fact, some apps, including Amazon Shopping, browsers or Google News, are whitelisted and not blocked by default because of "known issues". The protection can be enabled or disabled manually, but there is no guarantee that an app will work correctly if you enable the protection if it is listed as having known issues.
Some apps did not work properly after I enabled the protective features manually, others did work but some functionality that I did not use might not work correctly. It is worth a try though to find out if all functionality that you use continues 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 by the application. Options to add custom lists would be welcome to improve the protection system-wide.
Users who don't trust DuckDuckGo won't use the functionality, but there are alternatives, such as AdGuard, which users may use instead. The highlighting of tracker use in apps may convince some users to uninstall some of the offending apps on their devices. It is often as convenient to access websites directly in a browser on the device instead of using an application for the purpose.
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