DuckDuckGo launches new email security service to remove trackers

DuckDuckGo is launching a new email privacy service aimed at preventing ad companies from spying on your inbox.

The company’s new email security feature gives users a free “@duck.com” email address, which will forward emails to your regular inbox after analyzing their content for trackers and deleting them. DuckDuckGo also extends this feature with unique, one-time forwarding addresses, which can be easily generated in DuckDuckGo’s mobile browser or through desktop browser extensions.

The personalized DuckDuckGo email is meant to be handed out to friends and contacts you know, while the disposable addresses are better served when signing up for free trials, newsletters, or wherever you suspect your email address might be sold . If the email address has been compromised, you can simply deactivate it.

These tools are similar to anti-tracking features implemented by Apple in iOS 14 and iOS 15, but DuckDuckGo’s approach integrates into iOS, Android, and all major web browsers. DuckDuckGo also makes it easier to set up disposable email addresses on the fly, for newsletters, or wherever you share your email.

Addressing email privacy has been a key goal for DuckDuckGo as the company pushes for privacy-friendly practices for various online tasks. The company started with its DuckDuckGo search engine of the same name and has recently introduced its own mobile browser and desktop browser extensions to remove trackers while browsing the web.

Email trackers appear in more than 70 percent of mailing lists, according to a widely quoted 2017 study. Once implemented, advertisers can find out when you open email, where you are when you open it, and what device you’re using. Removing trackers from email removes data points from list building hidden ad profiles on you, which have become a priority for privacy advocates in recent years.

Weinberg said consumer research has shown that asking people to switch to a brand new email address and provider would be a tough pitch. So instead of creating a new email service, the email security tool acts as an intermediate layer that monitors access to your inbox.

“Our high-level goal is to make simple privacy protections available to everyone, wherever they are,” said CEO Gabriel Weinberg The edge. “So We try to build this into every major browser or operating system or email provider you use.”

iPhone users may recognize the concept of a relay email address, a feature Apple introduced with iOS 14 called Hide my email. When you sign up for an app through an Apple device, your iPhone may suggest any Apple email address. Emails hit the random address which makes the app not know your real email. In iOS 15 from Apple, the company is introducing similar features to confuse email trackers and protect privacy.

Weinberg explains that DuckDuckGo’s email security is different from Apple’s offering because it’s cross-platform, meaning you have a unified experience with disposable email addresses across mobile, desktop, iPhone, or Android. But it also differs in how the software looks on trackers. Apple loads trackers on its own servers, which send erroneous information back to the trackers’ servers. DuckDuckGo just removes them from the email before they ever load. This difference is negligible for most users, but it is definitely a difference.

Setting up the tool is easy. Users sign up through the DuckDuckGo mobile app by going to the Settings page and tapping Email Security. They can then join the waiting list, which DuckDuckGo says is new because it doesn’t collect an email address — it stores a timestamp in the app that’s used to indicate the person’s order in line.

DuckDuckGo estimates the wait time will be a few weeks after which users will be prompted to set up the feature. The installation process involves a little light reading about the privacy features and choosing a new “Duck.com” email address. One feature that highlights the process is that DuckDuckGo doesn’t see or save your email; removing the tracker is done in the memory (or RAM) of the server and is never written to a disk or hard drive. DuckDuckGo also built the forwarding software from scratch so that it didn’t rely on a third party to also process the emails before they reached your inbox.

The Email Security feature also integrates with the DuckDuckGo mobile browser and desktop browser extension, giving people the option to enter their “@duck.com” address or generate a disposable address that forwards email to their inboxes. The mobile and desktop browser extensions are linked by opening a link in the Email Security welcome email in your desktop browser.

From then on, when email is received, scanned, stripped of trackers and forwarded to your email, DuckDuckGo will add a small bar at the top of the email to notify you of deleted trackers. By clicking on that bar, a user can get more information about the blocked trackers or deactivate a disposable address that has been compromised.

Crucially, while a user can reply to an email they receive at an “@duck.com” address, it cannot be used to send an email in the first place, reducing the utility of the tool. for money laundering harassment is reduced.

The feature is launching in beta testing and DuckDuckGo is still investigating how it will work in the real world. The company is also working on a privacy-focused desktop browser, expected to be ready by the end of 2021, as part of a wider drive to offer privacy-focused alternatives to every major online activity.

“Wherever you go online, we want to protect you,” Weinberg said.