DuckDuckGo’s Private Mac Browser Can’t Replace Chrome

With its new Mac web browser, DuckDuckGo wants to take the hassle out of online privacy.

It has many of the same anti-tracking features as DuckDuckGo’s existing extension for other browsers, and of course it uses DuckDuckGo’s own search engine, which unlike Google does not profile users based on of their search history. But DuckDuckGo says its new browser is faster and easier than using its extension with other browsers, and it may offer additional features, such as the ability to clear your history with a single click.

Still, these built-in privacy protections don’t come without sacrifice, as DuckDuckGo lacks many of the features you’d expect from a desktop web browser. If you manage to get a beta invite, chances are you want to use DuckDuckGo as an experimental privacy tool rather than your primary browser of choice.

Wrapped with privacy

The benefits of DuckDuckGo’s tracker blocking are a bit difficult to quantify, but they generally involve stopping or blocking companies from tracking you around the web for ad targeting purposes. The idea is that if you search for a blender on Amazon or click on a banner ad for a t-shirt, you shouldn’t be bombarded with ads for similar products on other sites.

Since the absence of creepy ads can be hard to consciously notice, DuckDuckGo makes sure to remind you of the work it does behind the scenes. Its new tab page shows a running feed of all blocked trackers on your recently visited websites. and when you visit a website, a nice little animation shows important trackers being wiped from the address bar.

There is also a side effect: you will see fewer ads. Although DuckDuckGo is not ostensibly an ad blocker, many websites rely on external tracking data to serve ads, and DuckDuckGo blocks them from loading accordingly.

DuckDuckGo’s browser also offers a bunch of other privacy-related features. Clicking the fire icon in the upper right corner clears all your browsing data, and you can also delete data from individual sites through the browser’s new tab page.

The browser can even help protect your email privacy by automatically filling out signup forms with a email address. For emails sent to this address, DuckDuckGo will remove them from trackers so the sender can’t tell if you opened the message. You can also create unique and masked email addresses, allowing you to prevent the sender from contacting you in the future.

Meanwhile, a new cookie consent option allows DuckDuckGo to automatically manage the prompts some sites show to ask if they can track you with cookies. (This setting, which is off by default, will also happen to DuckDuckGo’s browser extension.)

Missing features

Since most of DuckDuckGo’s privacy features are also available through its extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, one might wonder why a dedicated DuckDuckGo desktop browser is needed. Beah Burger-Lenehan, senior product manager for DuckDuckGo, said over email that it’s all about simplicity.

“People don’t want to have to install many different privacy products or add-ons for different use cases,” she said. “They don’t want complicated settings that create different levels of privacy. They want simple online privacy protection that works.

DuckDuckGo also relishes the opportunity to start fresh in the browser space. Unlike most other alternative web browsers, such as Microsoft Edge, Brave, Opera, and Vivaldi, it doesn’t rely on Google’s Chromium open-source code or the Blink rendering engine. The browser relies on Apple’s WebKit rendering engine, the same used by Safari, but otherwise DuckDuckGo keeps all the code.

“This means we don’t have the clutter and clutter that has built up in browsers over the years, both in code and design, giving the app a modern look and faster speed. fast,” she said.

Still, if you’re used to these other browsers, DuckDuckGo’s clean slate approach will come with some significant trade-offs. A short list:

  • There’s no extension support, so you can’t use third-party password managers, such as 1Password or Bitwarden. DuckDuckGo encourages users to import their credentials into its own built-in password manager, but you can’t yet sync these passwords to mobile devices or use them with other browsers.
  • DuckDuckGo does not support other search engines by default. To search other sites, you must add special symbols (such as “g!” for Google) to your query or visit their websites directly.
  • There’s no incognito mode, so you can’t easily browse the web in a disconnected state, which is useful for temporarily logging into secondary accounts or finding non-personalized results on certain websites. (Also, any web history you want to hide should be deleted after the fact.)
  • Tab management is a hassle, as you can’t reopen closed tabs, search your browsing history, use vertical tabs, install sites as apps, or customize the new tab page.
  • There is no bookmarks bar, so you have to access bookmarks through the menu bar.
  • A lack of extension support also means you can’t use other useful web tools, such as CamelCamelCamel to check price history on Amazon, or Honey to save money while shopping.

These features may not be important to all users, and DuckDuckGo may add more over time – the current version is just a private beta, after all – but the current limitations can make the DuckDuckGo desktop difficult to use to get things done.

Other Options

DuckDuckGo isn’t the only company building a privacy-focused web browser.

Its most direct rival is Brave, which offers both a web browser and its own search engine. Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox also offer built-in tracker blocking, as do Vivaldi and Opera. None of these options lock you into a specific search engine or password manager, and they all support dynamic ecosystems of browser extensions.

DuckDuckGo claims that its tracking protection is superior, at least compared to major web browsers. The company cites its own research from a year ago showing that Chrome, Safari, and Firefox all loaded pages slower, transferred more data, and made more web requests unless DuckDuckGo’s extension was added. installed at the top.

“Just offering privacy features doesn’t mean you’re actually private,” says Beah Burger-Lenehan. “For example, to be private, you have to actually block trackers before they load, like our tracker blocker does by default.”

But this approach is not exclusive to DuckDuckGo either. Peter Snyder, senior privacy researcher and chief privacy officer at Brave, said via email that Brave has blocked trackers before they load since its early releases. It also highlights some areas where Brave’s privacy protections are even stronger. It’s best, for example, to defend against “fingerprinting,” a method some websites use to track users based on unique attributes of their browser or operating system. (Indeed, Brave is the only browser I’ve tested that shows an entirely random fingerprint in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Cover Your Tracks” test.)

Snyder says Brave is able to do this by using a heavily modified version of Google’s open-source Chromium code, allowing it to modify how the browser manages storage and performs network operations.

“Brave is able to enforce privacy protections that are impossible with DDG’s approach,” Snyder says.

That doesn’t mean DuckDuckGo’s new browser should be ignored. It offers stronger privacy protections than major web browsers, and its simple interface may still be sufficient, even refreshing, for people who already use its mobile apps. (And unlike Brave, DuckDuckGo doesn’t seem interested in pushing cryptocurrency at you.) More competition in this space is always welcome.

I just hope DuckDuckGo’s commitment to keeping privacy simple doesn’t always get in the way of offering more advanced browser features.

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