Privacy-focused DuckDuckGo is now offering ‘App Tracking Protection for Android’: Rudimentary protected conduit allows data but blocks trackers on smartphones

DuckDuckGo App Tracking Protection for Android
DuckDuckGo takes on Google. Pic credit: Christiaan Colen/Flickr

Apple Inc. has a system-level App Tracking Transparency or ATT, but Google’s Android smartphones are comparatively still wide open for tracking and data collection. DuckDuckGo is now offering ‘App Tracking Protection for Android’ through a novel approach.

ATT on iPhone’s managed to upset tech giants, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, and many others. DuckDuckGo wants to replicate the success of ATT on a Google Android device, but the journey and methodology is quite rudimentary and limited.

DuckDuckGo introduces ‘App Tracking Protection for Android’ to lessen the amount of tracking on devices that run Google’s smartphone OS:

Apple Inc. made headlines with its ATT. With one clean sweep, it pulled the rug from right under Facebook, Google, and many other companies that happily tracked and targeted iPhone users to serve relevant ads.

ATT essentially puts a system-level barricade that iPhone users must throw open if they want. Users can either allow or deny permission to track users across apps, websites, and online platforms.

Needless to mention, the majority of iPhone and iPad users denied permission. As a result, social media giants like Facebook, and tech companies like Google, collectively lost an estimated $10 billion.

Now DuckDuckGo, a company that began its life as a privacy-first web search engine, is now trying to offer something similar for Android smartphones. The company is calling its solution ‘App Tracking Protection for Android’.

How does DuckDuckGo’s ATT work on smartphones:

Many privacy advocates routinely claim that smartphones are the worst devices for those who value their privacy. There’s little doubt that the vast majority of apps have third-party trackers.

DuckDuckGo claims that 96 percent of the free Android apps that it analyzed, contained multiple trackers. Needless to mention, Google and Facebook are the most prominent companies in nearly every app.

Blocking trackers on an Android smartphone means preventing apps from sending user data, which includes, telemetry, location, and other sensory data, back to the servers.

Apple Inc. has designed and implemented ATT on its own iOS that powers the iPhone devices. Simply put, Apple has embedded system-level protection on its own devices.

DuckDuckGo doesn’t have any such level of access or privilege on an Android smartphone. Google controls Android, and hence, would never allow any company to interfere with data collection and processing.

Hence, DuckDuckGo’s solution is not elegant. In fact, it presents itself as a VPN (Virtual Private Network). The company’s solution runs the same set of device permissions as a VPN.

Although it may look like a VPN, the platform doesn’t transfer any data off the device, assures Peter Dolanjski, a director of product at DuckDuckGo.

The ‘App Tracking Protection for Android’ network runs locally. The platform essentially prevents apps from making connections with certain servers that harbor trackers.

After Apple Inc.’s ATT shot to fame, Google indicated it is contemplating a similar approach. However, for a company that survives on user data, it would be a conflict of interest.

Incidentally, Google has to go a long way, if it wants to push privacy as a feature on an Android device. The company must give users more control over how companies handle their data, advises Dolanjski.

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