Privacy-first search engine DuckDuckGo has released an open-source tool called Tracker Radar that identifies hidden trackers across the web and blocks them from collecting data about you. The company already uses the tool in its own Privacy Browser for iOS and Android as well as in its Privacy Essentials desktop extension.
The web crawler that fights bad guys — DuckDuckGo explains that while most of the major browsers are responding to consumer skepticism of data collection by beefing up protection from tracking, they're still not going as far as they could. Google, for instance, has announced that Chrome will block third-party cookies in the future — but that leaves out methods of "fingerprinting" wherein a tracker collects your IP address and instead use that to identify your activity around the web. Tracker Radar targets a wide swath of trackers and compiles a shit list to be blocked en masse.
By open-sourcing the technology, developers can easily incorporate Tracker Radar's constantly-updating blacklist into their own web browsers without having to build such a complex product from scratch. DuckDuckGo says that Tracker Radar uses a sophisticated crawling process that identifies trackers and generates detailed information about their behavior. It can see if blocking a tracker might break a website so that they can be allowed only when absolutely necessary. Developers can use the whole list of blocked trackers that DuckDuckGo has already identified or pick and choose which ones they'd like to whitelist.
In keeping with DuckDuckGo's core philosophy — DuckDuckGo's search engine does feature advertising — just like Google's — but its ads are based on the keywords you search for and don't incorporate any information gleaned from your web activity. Google has built its business on tracking because advertisements are much more valuable when advertisers can target potential customers based on detailed information about them and their habits. In that sense, it's hard for Google to put the genie back in the bottle and cut back on tracking without hurting its own bottomline. DuckDuckGo, on the other hand, thinks it can build a small but sustainable business from the ground up purely on advertisements that don't use tracking data.
It certainly sounds like a utopian dream, and yet DuckDuckGo soldiers on. Consumers increasingly distrust "surveillance economy" companies like Google and Facebook, but given how pervasive they are, it's hard for consumers to break free of them. It's good to have privacy-centric alternatives, and the more people that use them the more big tech companies will be forced to work privacy into their offerings as a selling point not an optional extra burried in a settings menu.