DuckDuckGo: App Tracking Protection for Android universally available

Martin Brinkmann
Nov 17, 2022
Google Android
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DuckDuckGo announced the general availability of its App Tracking Protection feature in the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser app for Android on November 16, 2022.

Launched with limited access last year, the feature is now available to all users of the DuckDuckGo application on Android. App Tracking Protection is still a beta feature, but it is universally available on Android.

To summarize its functionality for those who have not heard of it before: App Tracking Protection blocks trackers system-wide on Android using a list of known trackers. It establishes a purely local VPN connection on the device. Traffic flows through the VPN and known trackers are blocked automatically while that happens. Several applications and services use the same method to block trackers and ads on Android, including Netguard.

tracker information

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When I reviewed the feature last year, I found the tracking protection feature easy to use. It worked well for most apps on the device, but I ran into issues loading some. Main points of criticism back then were the lack of custom list options, that the tracking list was not publicly available, and that some trackers were not blocked but excluded.

The latest version of App Tracking Protection does away with the waitlist and makes it available to all users of the app. The developers have improved the feature since is launch last year. Core new features include more information on trackers that applications use, performance improvements, a reduction in tracker exclusions, and the release of the blocklist in a public space.

Configure App Tracking Protection

duckduckgo app tracking protection

Launch the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser application for Android to get started. Select the Menu icon (three dots) at the top, and then Settings.

Scroll down in Settings until you encounter the More from DuckDuckGo section. Activate App Tracking Protection there and follow the onboarding wizard to enable the feature. Note that you need to allow DuckDuckGo to set up a VPN connection.

Once done, the feature works automatically in the background. Options to disable tracking protection for individual apps is provided; this is useful, as some apps may not work correctly or launch at all, after the feature is enabled on the Android device.

DuckDuckGo highlights apps that have tracking protection disabled, and gives users an option to enable tracking protection for these. 17 out of more than 120 apps on a test device were not protected by the feature by default, including web browsers such as Firefox, Chrome and Brave, the Google Play Store and Android Auto, WhatsApp and YouTube.

App Tracking Protection lists recent activity in the interface. A new feature is the option to dive deeper by selecting an app with blocked tracking attempts. DuckDuckGo highlights what the selected app is known to collect on the page that follows.

Closing Words

App Tracking Protection blocks some trackers on Android devices once it is enabled. Some, as it relies on a list of known trackers and does not include options to add more trackers to the list using customization options. Some also, because some apps are except from the blocking by default.

DuckDuckGo addressed some of the concerns users had when the feature launched originally. The list of trackers is public now, there are less apps exempt from blocking by default, and more information is displayed regarding the collection of data by individual apps.

Still, users of the app may want to enable the new feature to reduce tracking on their device.

Now You: do you use apps that block trackers system-wide on your mobile devices?

Summary
DuckDuckGo: App Tracking Protection for Android universally available
Article Name
DuckDuckGo: App Tracking Protection for Android universally available
Description
App Tracking Protection is now available to all users of DuckDuckGo's Private Browser App for Android to block trackers system-wide.
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Ghacks Technology News
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Comments

  1. Ashwin said on November 17, 2022 at 8:36 am
    Reply

    That’s correct, DuckDuckGo’s app does not have an actual VPN, it creates a local VPN connection to filter the network connections through its app. This has its downsides.

    I noticed that my phone’s battery would drain very quickly with the app’s VPN enabled. For context, I usually charge my mobile once every 2-3 days (about 6-8 hours of screen usage). However, with DuckDuckGo’s protection enabled, I had to charge my phone every day.

    This was annoying, but I think this is a common problem with ad blockers that create VPN connections. I don’t experience this issue if I use a private DNS such as NextDNS or Adguard, they block ads and trackers just fine.

    The other problem that I had with DuckDuckGo’s app was that it blocked some payment gateways in grocery apps, causing orders to fail. I had to manually disable the blocking rule for the affected apps, and submitted a report regarding the issue. I think the issue has been fixed, since I could place orders with the protection enabled, but I can’t say if it works perfectly with other apps.

    YMMV.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on November 17, 2022 at 9:31 am
      Reply

      Yes, one of the main issues is that it may need adjusting, as you may run into apps that do not function properly. I experienced an increased draining of the battery as well while using the app.

      1. ECJ said on November 17, 2022 at 3:18 pm
        Reply

        “…I experienced an increased draining of the battery as well while using the app.”

        I wonder whether that’s due to apps constantly retrying to connect to the tracking domains that are blocked – over and over again? And perhaps when the tracking domains are blocked via a DNS provider instead, the apps recognise the NX Domain response and don’t keep trying? I’m only guessing here, I haven’t tried it.

        Does Android show particular apps using more battery, or is it the DuckDuckGo browser itself using more battery?

        Either way, this is more evidence that stalking users across the internet against their will should be prevented by law. End users should have the choice whether they want to be tracked via an Operating System level setting; they shouldn’t have to resort to hacks like this (which can break things and use more battery) in order to try and protect their privacy.

  2. Gogoduck said on November 17, 2022 at 10:36 am
    Reply

    Yup Ive been using it for months, but now it breaks every other app. I cant use messenger, reddit, signal, viber if the app protection is active. So the maint trackers can not be catched because you have to disable app protection for the most invasive applications in order to make them work…

  3. Anonymous said on November 17, 2022 at 11:29 am
    Reply

    I will never use DDG’s stuff again, that said even if it were available for iOS I would definitely prefer DNSCloak (great for battery too).

  4. Coriy said on November 17, 2022 at 2:49 pm
    Reply

    It sounds like duckduckgo implemented the funtionality of TrackerControl, which is available on GitHub, F-Droid, IzzyOnDroid, and, for now, Google Play Store. TrackerControl creates a local VPN and restricts Apps that way. And it’s very thorough, I have to disable it to use the play store (but not F-Droid via Droid-ify), if I need to update Apps.
    It also increases battery drain, but only by a little on Android 9, though a lot more on Android 11 (more aggressive phone home attempts from the system apps).

  5. VioletMoon said on November 17, 2022 at 5:31 pm
    Reply

    Guess I don’t get the gHacks theme of obtrusive advertising. MS placed a small unobtrusive “back up your files” advertisement in the Start Menu which led to a torrent of major complaints from the site’s authors and commentators.

    That small advertisement is nothing compared to the DDG advertisement which greeted me this morning on a default site and displays prominently on every search I make:

    “NEW!
    Help Spread DuckDuckGo!
    App Tracking Protection beta now open to all on Android”

    On a 14″ laptop screen, the advertisement and announcement take up a good quarter of the top right corner of the screen.

    The mass of service providers must be desperate to provide services that, according to comments made today, break many of the other apps on Android, drain battery life by 30% more than normal for any particular phone, and/or break sites.

    Yet, gHacks promotes the value of the DDG service and berates MS.

  6. 11r20 said on November 17, 2022 at 6:27 pm
    Reply

    I rooted my ol’ Android 5.1.1 and turned it into a dumb phone >>> NO Text Messaging, No Apps, No Maps, No Google scripts, No Certificates, just a stripped-out dumb-phone with 2g-3g-4g-4glte channels

    The Battery will sometimes last up to a week depending on call usage. Phone-reception
    Works Great in wilderness areas.

    Never use your phone as a computer > Use
    a secured, locked-down-computer.

    Thanks for reading 11r20 From Texas

  7. Tachy said on November 17, 2022 at 6:57 pm
    Reply

    Q: Do I have an app that blocks tracking on my mobile “tracking” device?

    A: No, why whould I disable my devices core function?

    It’s a phone ffs, use it as such and move on. Stop installing all those privacy invading apps on it.

    Phone calls, texting, camera, and navigation, that’s all I use mine for and I disable as much of the google tracking as I can.

    (music with the maps because you have to do it this way to hear the navigation voice and music at the same time but I only play local files with Musicolet and never use an online ‘service’. Though that is because I don’t want to hear adds, not privacy issues)

  8. Anonymous said on November 17, 2022 at 10:08 pm
    Reply

    If you’re rooted (as you should be if you want to be in control of your device), you should have AdAway installed. Also, check out App Manager on F-Droid. It has a Block all trackers feature, which disables the offending stuff, not just blocking it from connecting.

  9. Anon said on November 20, 2022 at 8:54 pm
    Reply

    Kind reminder that DDG edits search results as admitted by their CEO on twitter. If you think they care about privacy you might get surprised late on.

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