These days, on the internet, everybody knows you’re a dog.
Practically everything you do online is tracked, analyzed, categorized, packaged, and sold off to hordes of faceless behemoths exploiting your clicks for that sweet reward of fractions of a penny.
But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. A new free app from DuckDuckGo offers an encouraging bit of pushback to the churning maw that is online tracking. It takes a step beyond simply private searches, and you should totally download it.
You’re probably familiar with DuckDuckGo, the “search engine that doesn’t track you.” Like many, you may have come across the site following the 2013 NSA-spying revelations by ex-government contractor Edward Snowden while on the hunt for a little bit of online privacy.
Unlike, say, Google, DuckDuckGo doesn’t track you specifically. Instead, it sells ads based on your search terms. In a 2015 Reddit AMA, the company’s CEO and founder explained how that model manages to be profitable.
“It is a myth you need to track people to make money in Web search,” wrote Gabriel Weinberg. “Most of the money is still made without tracking people by showing you ads based on your keyword, i.e. type in car and get a car ad. These ads are lucrative because people have buying intent.”
This no-track business model was and continues to be great for searching the web, but what about browsing it? That’s where the new app (and corresponding browser extension) comes in. Downloaded to an iOS or Android device, the app allows you to cruise around the web as you would otherwise — but with some added protections.
“[The app] moves beyond the search box and protects your privacy wherever you go on the Internet,” a company spokesperson explained over email. “Also, this is the first product on the market to combine tracker blocking, smarter encryption, and private search into one seamless user experience, across all major platforms.”
In addition to blocking ad trackers, the app forces HTTPS on sites that have it but for whatever reason didn’t serve you the encrypted page. We downloaded the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser, as the app is officially called, on an iPhone and gave it a spin. The experience felt much like browsing the web on iOS’s Safari, but with the additional benefit of being able to see what ad trackers were shut down on each website we visited.
The app also blocked some display ads, which was an added bonus.
“Too many people believe you simply can’t expect privacy on the Internet”
So who, exactly, is this for? Well, according to Weinberg, that would be pretty much everyone.
“[This] product is for everyone who doesn’t like the feeling of being watched, doesn’t like ads following them around everywhere they go, or doesn’t like the idea of companies making money off their personal information,” he explained in a statement provided to Mashable.
Taking it a step further, Weinberg believes the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser could help point the way toward a future where privacy is the default — not the exception.
“Because of widespread poor privacy practices, too many people believe you simply can’t expect privacy on the Internet,” he observed. “We disagree, and have made it our mission to set a new standard of trust online.”
Here’s hoping he’s successful in that effort.