DuckDuckGo launches a new email privacy service to prevent advertising companies from spying on your inbox.
The company’s new email protection feature gives users a free “@ duck.com” email address, which will forward email to your regular inbox after analyzing the content for trackers and stripping away. DuckDuckGo also extends this feature with unique, one-time redirect addresses, which can be easily generated in DuckDuckGo’s mobile browser or via desktop browser extensions.
The personal DuckDuckGo email is meant to be shared with friends and contacts you know, while the one-time addresses are better served when you sign up for free trials, newsletters or anywhere you suspect you may be selling your email address. If the email address is compromised, you can easily disable it.
These tools are similar to anti-tracking features implemented by Apple in iOS 1
Dealing with e-mail privacy has been an important goal for DuckDuckGo, as the company pushes for privacy-friendly methods for various online tasks. The company started with its eponymous DuckDuckGo search engine and has recently introduced its own mobile browser and desktop browser extensions to remove trackers while browsing the web.
Email trackers are found in more than 70 percent of mailing lists, according to a highly cited 2017 study. Once implemented, they let advertisers find out when you open email, where you are when you open it, and what device you are using. Removing trackers from email removes data points from lists that build hidden advertising profiles on you, which has become a priority for privacy managers in recent years.
Weinberg said that consumer surveys showed that it would be difficult to ask people to switch to a completely new email address and provider. So instead of creating a new e-mail service, the e-mail protection tool acts as an intermediate layer that protects access to your inbox.
“Our lofty goal is to make easy privacy accessible to everyone wherever they are,” said CEO Gabriel Weinberg The Verge. “So We try to build this into any major browser, operating system or email provider you use. ”
iPhone users can recognize the concept with a forwarding email address, a feature that Apple introduced with iOS 14, called Hide My Email. When you sign up for an app via an Apple device, iPhone may suggest a randomized Apple email address. Email hits the random address, preventing the app from knowing your real email. In Apple’s iOS 15, the company introduces similar features to confuse email trackers and protect privacy.
Weinberg explains that DuckDuckGo’s email protection is different from Apple’s offering because it’s platform, which means you have a unified experience with one-time email addresses on mobile, desktop, iPhone or Android. But it also stands out in how the software zags on trackers. Apple loads trackers on its own servers, which send incorrect information back to the tracker’s servers. DuckDuckGo only removes them from the email before loading. This difference for most users is insignificant, but there really is a difference.
Setting up the tool is fine. Users sign up through the DuckDuckGo mobile app, by going to the Settings page and tapping Email Protection. They can then join the waiting list, which DuckDuckGo says is new because it does not collect an email address – it saves a timestamp in the app that is used to queue the person’s order.
DuckDuckGo estimates that the waiting time will be a couple of weeks, after which users will be notified to configure the feature. The setup process includes some easy reading about the privacy features and choosing a new “Duck.com” email address. One feature that the process emphasizes is that DuckDuckGo does not view or store your email; Tracker removal is done in the servers memory (or RAM) and never written to a disk or hard drive. DuckDuckGo also built the forwarding software from scratch, so it did not have to rely on a third party to process the emails before they hit your inbox.
The email protection feature also integrates with the DuckDuckGo browser and desktop browser extension, allowing people to fill in the “@ duck.com” address or generate a one-time address that forwards email to their inbox. The mobile and desktop browser extensions are connected by opening a link to the email protection welcome email in your desktop browser.
From then on, when email is received, scanned, cleaned for trackers and forwarded to your email, DuckDuckGo inserts a small bar at the top of the email, notifying trackers that have been removed. By clicking on that line, a user can get more information about tracking trackers or disable a disposable address that has been compromised.
Essentially, 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, which reduces the tool’s utility for money laundering.
The feature is being launched in a beta test, and DuckDuckGo is still exploring how it will work in the real world. The company is also working on a privacy-focused desktop browser, which it expects to complete by the end of 2021, as part of a broader push to offer privacy-focused options for all major online activities.
“Wherever you go online, we want to protect you,” Weinberg said.