At the end April, Apple’s introduction of App Tracking Transparency tools rocked the advertising industry to its core. iPhone and iPad owners could now prevent apps from tracking their behavior and using their data for personalized advertising. Since the new privacy control was launched, nearly $ 10 billion has been erased from the revenue of Snap, Meta Platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Now a similar tool is coming to Google’s Android operating system – though not from Google itself. Privacy-focused technology company DuckDuckGo, which started life as a private search engine, adds the ability to block hidden trackers to its Android app. The feature, called “App Tracking Protection for Android”, is rolling out in beta from today and aims to mimic Apple’s iOS controls. “The idea is that we block this data collection from the apps that the trackers do not own,” says Peter Dolanjski, product director at DuckDuckGo. “You should see far fewer creepy ads following you around the web.”
The vast majority of apps have third-party trackers tucked away in their code. These trackers monitor your behavior across different apps and help create profiles about you that can include what you buy, demographic data, and other information that can be used to show you customized ads. DuckDuckGo says that the analysis of popular free Android apps shows that more than 96 percent of them contain trackers. Blocking these trackers means that Facebook and Google, whose trackers are some of the most prominent, cannot send data back to the mother ship – nor will the dozens of advertising networks you’ve never heard of.
From a user perspective, blocking trackers with DuckDuckGo’s tools is straightforward. App Tracking Protection appears as an option in the settings menu of its Android app. So far, you will see the option to get on a waiting list to access it. But once turned on, the feature shows the total number of trackers blocked in the last week and provides an overview of what has been blocked in each app recently. Open the app to Daily mail, one of the world’s largest news sites, and DuckDuckGo will instantly detect that it blocks trackers from Google, Amazon, WarnerMedia, Adobe and the advertising company Taboola. An example from DuckDuckGo showed that more than 60 apps had tracked a test phone thousands of times within the last seven days.
My own experience carried it out. Using a box-free Google Pixel 6 Pro, I installed 36 popular free apps – some estimates claim that people install about 40 apps on their phones – and logged on to about half of them. These included the McDonald’s app, LinkedIn, Facebook, Amazon and BBC Sounds. Then, with a preview of DuckDuckGo’s Android tracker lock turned on, I left the phone alone for four days and did not use it at all. In 96 hours, 23 of these apps had made more than 630 tracking attempts in the background.
When you use your phone daily – when you open and interact with apps – you see many more attempts at tracking. When I opened the McDonald’s app, trackers from Adobe, the cloud software company New Relic, Google, the emotion tracking company Apptentive, and the mobile analytics company Kochava tried to collect data about me. Opening eBay and Uber apps – but not signing in to them – was enough to trigger Google trackers.