Microsoft trackers conflict with DuckDuckGo, are added to the block list

Microsoft trackers conflict with DuckDuckGo, are added to the block list

Aurich Lawson

DuckDuckGo, the privacy-focused search company, says it will block Microsoft trackers in its desktop web browser after revelations in May that certain scripts from Bing and LinkedIn were passed.

In a blog post, DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg says he’s heard users’ concerns since security researcher The thread of Zach Edwards that “we did not meet their expectations regarding any of our browser’s web-tracking protections.” Weinberg says the company’s browser will add Microsoft to its list of third-party tracking scripts blocked by its mobile and desktop browsers in the coming week, as well as extensions for other browsers.

“We used to be limited in how we could apply our 3rd-Party Tracker Loading Protection to Microsoft tracking scripts due to a policy requirement related to our use of Bing as a source for our private search results,” Weinberg writes. “We’re glad this is no longer the case. We don’t have and don’t have a similar limitation at any other company.”

There are many pervasive, identifying things that load on most modern web pages. At issue in DuckDuckGo’s apps was the default blocking of scripts from companies such as Facebook and Google being loaded on third-party websites. DuckDuckGo, which uses Microsoft’s Bing as one of its search results sources, had to allow some of Microsoft’s trackers to load “due to a policy requirement.” In a Reddit comment at the time of the unveiling, Weinberg noted that Microsoft’s trackers were still blocked in most ways, such as using third-party cookies for fingerprinting visitors.

However, there’s more to the delicate dance between DuckDuckGo and Microsoft than just trackers. Microsoft also offers ads that appear in DuckDuckGo search results. To enable advertisers to see when someone clicked on an ad on DuckDuckGo and landed on their page, the DuckDuckGo apps do not block requests from bat.bing.com. Weinberg notes that you can avoid this by completely disabling ads in DuckDuckGo search. The company is working to validate ads in ways that could be non-tracking, Weinberg writes, similar to similar efforts by Safari and Firefox.

Finally, DuckDuckGo wants to be more open about blocking trackers. The company yesterday posted its tracker block list to a public GitHub repository and published a new help document on its tracking protections.

It may seem like a lot of work over two scripts, but DuckDuckGo lives in the tricky balance of trying to make its search product useful and relevant while giving its users as much privacy as websites can bear before they go bust. And the 15-year-old company from Paoli, Pennsylvania, can’t just leave Bing altogether. Weinberg noted in his May Reddit response that most of his traditional search results and images come from Bing. “Actually, only two companies (Google and Microsoft) have a high-quality global web link index” because of its multi-billion dollar cost, Weinberg wrote. Any company that wants to offer the world search faces a duopoly or a very long journey.

Microsoft, meanwhile, continues to expand its advertising markets, most recently to Netflix, and possibly to its own operating system. Ad revenue was $3 billion for the quarter ended June 30, up 15 percent year over year but the lowest growth rate in more than a year.


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