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Duck, duck… no: “anonymous” browser sharing user data with Microsoft, research confirms

A privacy and data researcher has slammed browser provider DuckDuckGo (DDG) on Twitter, after conducting research that he says confirms it is sharing user data with Microsoft from its mobile phone platforms.

“The new DuckDuckGo browsers for iOS/Android don't block Microsoft data flows, for LinkedIn or Bing,” posted Zach Edwards, of Victory Medium, who tested both iOS and Android versions of DDG and found that “neither blocked data transfers to Microsoft's Linkedin and Bing ads while viewing Facebook's workplace.com homepage.”

He added: “If you download the current version of the browser for iOS/Android, and hope this stops data transfers to super-common advertising subsidiaries owned by a company like Microsoft, too bad - the browser has a secret allow data flow list.”

Edwards said this was despite DDG’s claims that its browser tool “automatically blocks hidden third-party trackers.”

DDG has itself publicly acknowledged a data-sharing partnership with Microsoft. “If you click on a Microsoft-provided ad, you will be redirected to the advertiser’s landing page through Microsoft’s landing platform,” it said. “At that point, Microsoft will use your full IP address and user-agent string so that it can properly process the ad click and charge the advertiser.”

Commenting on the statement, Edwards said: “But you won't find any public articles from DuckDuckGo explaining why they are not blocking Microsoft-owned third-party data flows on websites not owned by Microsoft.”

Edwards declined to put his theory as to why that was in words, instead posting a meme of a beautiful woman peeling off a fat wad of dollar bills.

“If you are a privacy researcher at DDG, do you think it's appropriate to push rhetoric about why this is a good browser, knowing that there are global data brokers - your own partners - who you are purposefully not stopping data flows for, on domains they don't own?” he asked, before taking aim at Google Play and App Store for allowing the DDG browser apps to be featured on their stores in the first place.

“I think that both Google and Apple have an obligation to users within their marketplaces to remove apps which claim to do X, Y, Z, but do the opposite, merely because it makes the parent company more money. If you say you block third-party data flows, do that,” he said.

“I don't think there is a public list of all the domains the DuckDuckGo browser is not blocking, but they seem to be doing this with hardcoded rules,” he added. “The DDG browser stops data flows from tons of domains - except DDG's No.1 ad tech partner.”

An uprising postponed?

However, if Edwards was hoping to whip up a Twitter storm over the issue, he might be disappointed. Responses on the social media platform ranged from blank resignation to outright mockery.

“What’s a browser you can really trust?” replied one jaded tweeter. “Yes, how dirty foul of them to tell everyone what they were doing when they were doing it,” quipped another. “They’re so ‘caught.’ WTF dude?”

“DuckDuckGo, you were the chosen one!” exclaimed one melodramatic tweeter, posting a Star Wars GIF of Obi Wan Kenobi declaring: “It was said you would destroy the Sith, not join them!”

And one revolutionary added: “Money and the sheer power they hold will bring down civilization. Time not to wake up, but stand up. Duck, we are coming.”

Whether such outbursts will have DDG quaking in its cyber-boots remains to be seen.

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