Microsoft trackers run afoul of DuckDuckGo, get added to blocklist

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Microsoft trackers run afoul of DuckDuckGo, get added to blocklist

Aurich Lawson

DuckDuckGo, the privacy-minded search company, says it will block trackers from Microsoft in its desktop web browser, following revelations in May that certain scripts from Bing and LinkedIn were getting a pass.

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

“Previously, we were limited in how we could apply our 3rd-Party Tracker Loading Protection on 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 have not had, and do not have, any similar limitation with any other company.”

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

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There’s more to the delicate dance between DuckDuckGo and Microsoft than just trackers, however. Microsoft also provides ads that run on DuckDuckGo’s search results. To allow advertisers to see when someone has clicked an ad on DuckDuckGo and arrived at their page, the DuckDuckGo apps won’t block requests from bat.bing.com. Weinberg notes that you can avoid this by turning off ads in DuckDuckGo search entirely. The company is working on validating ads in ways that can be non-tracking, Weinberg writes, akin to similar efforts by Safari and Firefox.

Finally, DuckDuckGo aims to be more open about its tracker blocking. The company committed its tracker blocklist to a public GitHub repository yesterday and published a new help doc on its tracking protections.

It can look like a lot of work over two scripts, but then DuckDuckGo lives inside the tricky balance of trying to make its search product convenient and relevant while offering its users as much privacy as websites can stand before breaking. And the 15-year-old company from Paoli, Pennsylvania, can’t just leave Bing behind entirely. Weinberg noted in his May Reddit response that most of its traditional search results and images come from Bing. “Really only two companies (Google and Microsoft) have a high-quality global web link index” due to the billion-dollar cost, Weinberg wrote. Every company that wants to provide search to the world faces either a duopoly or a very long journey.

Microsoft, meanwhile, continues to expand its advertising markets, most recently to Netflix, and, potentially, into its own operating system. Its advertising revenue was $3 billion for the quarter ending June 30, an increase of 15 percent year over year but the lowest growth rate in more than a year.