Fact Check: Privacy Search Engine DuckDuckGo Had Secret Tracking Agreement With Microsoft

Fact Check: Privacy Search Engine DuckDuckGo Had Secret Tracking Agreement With Microsoft


Image: DuckDuckGo

Founded on a commitment to privacy, DuckDuckGo — the sixth-largest search engine in the U.S. by market share — is facing backlash for giving Microsoft permission to track some data on third-party sites and provide ads next to search results.

The DuckDuckGo browser is supposed to block trackers from advertisers that sell and trade user data. However, security researcher Zack Edwards discovered that while DuckDuckGo blocks Google and Facebook’s trackers, it allows Microsoft to track data through LinkedIn and Bing ad domains, according to tech news and analysis publication TechSpot.

With 0.68 percent of the search engine market share, DuckDuckGo is David vs. Goliath Google, which occupies 92.01 percent of the market.

DuckDuckGo admits that it has an agreement allowing Microsoft to provide ads next to search results. It says Microsoft doesn’t store ad-click behavior data or use it to profile users but it doesn’t mention the trackers sending data through LinkedIn and Bing.

A Pennsylvania-based company, DuckDuckGo defends its relationship with Microsoft and says it is trying to amend its agreement in their syndicated search content contract.

While DuckDuckGo does not store any personal identifiers with your search queries, Microsoft advertising may track your IP address and other information when clicking on an ad link for “accounting purposes” but it is not associated with a user advertising profile, according to BleepingComputer.

DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg Tweeted on Saturday, describing one news headline about the Microsoft tracking controversy as “misleading” since “this isn’t about our search engine and we actually restrict Microsoft scripts in our browsers, including blocking their 3rd party cookies.”

Weinberg invited readers to see get his full context in a detailed explanation on Reddit. In it, he wrote under the username yegg, “To be clear … when you load our search results, you are anonymous, including ads. Also on 3rd-party websites we actually do block Microsoft 3rd-party cookies in our browsers plus more protections including fingerprinting protection.”

Weinberg 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 impose these same restrictions on all third-party tracking scripts, including those from Microsoft.”

Responses seemed sympathetic on Redditt. “Youre a stand up CEO to come on reddit and defend your company,” Nodebunny wrote.

“Gotta respect the transparency,” benadrylpill wrote.

However, there was less sympathy for DuckDuckGo on the Y-Combinator Hacker News forum.

“Your stance is problematic. This is a problem, and it’s a serious one. It undermines trust in a product that claims to be the bastion of privacy” zenexer wrote. “To me, that just sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo. Ultimately, if a privacy-centric browser is contractually obligated to load tracking scripts and is required to avoid disclosing that fact, I want absolutely nothing to do with either party.”

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“The thread by the security engineer shows that the scripts are communicating back to the servers. That means your multi-pronged protection has failed,” tedivm wrote.

DuckDuckGo CEO Weinberg defended DuckDuckGo.

“I know our product is not perfect and will never be,” he wrote. “We face many constraints: platform constraints, contractual constraints (like in this case), breakage constraints, and the evolving tracking arms race. Holistically though I believe it is the best thing out there for mainstream users who want simple privacy protection without breaking things, and that is our product vision.”

Image: DuckDuckGo