- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Alternative search engine DuckDuckGo said Wednesday that it had released tools to help stop Google from snooping on Android users amid mounting attention to the Big Tech company’s surveillance practices.

DuckDuckGo has styled itself as a privacy-focused alternative to Google’s search product. It presented the tools days after Google made headlines for a $391.5 million settlement with 40 states that accused it of inappropriate location tracking.

The App Tracking Protection from DuckDuckGo intends to stop trackers hidden inside apps on Android devices from following people even when they stop using the apps.



“App Tracking Protection for Android is launching into open beta today,” DuckDuckGo announced on its blog. “It’s a free feature in the DuckDuckGo Android app that helps block 3rd-party trackers in the apps on your phone (like Google snooping in your weather app) — meaning more comprehensive privacy and less creepy targeting.”

DuckDuckGo cast its product as similar to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature, which asks users whether they want to allow third-party app tracking. DuckDuckGo said its product will automatically block all hidden trackers it can identify.

DuckDuckGo has attracted an audience that is fed up with Big Tech and has won over some conservatives searching for alternatives to Google. The company said in April that it was rolling out a new web browsing option for Mac, which could compete for internet users against Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome.

But Google is far from the only tech company gathering and analyzing personal data. DuckDuckGo said its research has found that the average Android user has 35 apps on each phone and might experience 1,000 to 2,000 tracking attempts a day.

Someone who uses apps to check flight prices, home prices, ticket prices and the weather may have more than 45 tracking companies collecting personal data such as location information, email addresses, phone numbers, time zones and details about the device, including its make and model, according to DuckDuckGo.

Such information is then organized into a profile for advertisers by companies such as Facebook and Google, working to influence what users see online, according to DuckDuckGo.

Alongside data brokers and advertisers, DuckDuckGo highlighted governments’ potential to acquire data that could lead to harm. 

“It can feel like you’re being listened to, but in reality it’s not that someone is listening to your conversations, it’s that your activity is being relentlessly tracked and analyzed!” DuckDuckGo said on its blog.

This week, Google agreed to pay $391.5 million in a settlement with a coalition of 40 state attorneys general to resolve accusations that it tracked users’ locations in violation of state laws, even after Google was told to stop.

The attorneys general said it was the largest-ever multistate privacy settlement. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, said Google’s penalty represented a “historic win for consumers.”

Still, the penalty paled in comparison with the $13.9 billion profit that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, generated in the third quarter, according to reports.

Google pledged to make changes to its products and said it changed product policies connected to the issues in the states’ investigations years ago.

Google product managers Marlo McGriff and David Monsees defended Google Search and Maps services’ use of location data.

“Location information lets us offer you a more helpful experience when you use our products,” the product managers said on Google’s blog this week. “From Google Maps’ driving directions that show you how to avoid traffic, to Google Search surfacing local restaurants and letting you know how busy they are, location information helps connect experiences across Google to what’s most relevant and useful.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

DuckDuckGo is not completely isolated from Big Tech. Ad clicks on DuckDuckGo are managed by Microsoft’s ad network, according to DuckDuckGo’s website, and its ties to Microsoft came under scrutiny from Capitol Hill this year.

Katie McInnis, DuckDuckGo senior public policy manager, faced questions from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican, about her company’s relationship with Microsoft during a March hearing of a House consumer protection subcommittee. Ms. McInnis was testifying in support of banning surveillance advertising.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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