A security researcher named Zach Edwards noted that he discovered the exception while auditing the browser’s privacy statement, noting that it was particularly curious becauseMicrosoftis a partner that serves ads in the DuckDuckGo search engine (while promising not to use this data to create a monitored profile of users to target ads, but to rely on context to decide which ads should be shown).
The reason, DuckDuckGo CEO Gabe Weinberg said at the time, was a search syndication deal with Microsoft and that more updates on third-party tracker prevention were coming. A backlash ensued, with some grabbing DuckDuckGo’s own phrase “tracking is tracking,” which the company used to object to Google’s cookie-replacing “privacy sandbox” ad tech.
“I have heard from some users and understand that we are not meeting their expectations for one of our browser’s web tracking protections,” Weinberg wrote in a blog post. DuckDuckGo promises to be more transparent about which trackers its browser and extensions protect users from, offers its tracker block list and provides users with more information about its tracking protection through a new help page.
The company’s vice president of communications, Kamyl Bazbaz, said in an email reply to the media that most Microsoft scripts are already blocked by the browser’s other protections, claiming that “we conducted a test to observe that due to this new update And how many times the block happened, we found only a 0.25% increase based on the cases collected by the top 1000 sites.”
With this week’s changes rolling out, the only thing DuckDuckGo doesn’t block by default is the bat.bing.com script, which is used on advertisers’ sites to measure ad performance. But the blog post said the DuckDuckGo third-party tracker loading protection would block Microsoft’s script “in all other cases.” Users can choose to disable ads in DuckDuckGo search settings to avoid this. Like some other companies, DuckDuckGo says it’s working on non-profiling techniques to replace scripting, but it’s not ready for a product release.
Criticisms of DuckDuckGo still focus on Google’s ad archives and the data they tend to pull from its various products, which also makes sense, with the bulk of Google parent Alphabet’s $257 billion in 2021 revenue coming from advertising.
But there’s good reason to focus on Microsoft’s advertising efforts, which, in addition to backing deals for Netflix’s ad-supported streaming service, have made billions of dollars from internet advertising and built a cross-border network of its own. A platform-capable ad tech giant that can reach over a billion people. If DuckDuckGo promises its users more comprehensive protection than other browsers, it will have to continually prove it.