DuckDuckGo is launching a new email privacy service designed to prevent advertising companies from spying on your inbox.
The company’s new email security feature gives users a free “@ duck.com” email address that forwards emails to a regular mailbox after analyzing their content for tracking and deleting everything. DuckDuckGo also extends this feature with unique, one-time forwarding addresses that can be easily created with DuckDuckGo’s mobile browser or desktop browser extensions.
Personal DuckDuckGo email is meant to be given to friends and contacts you know, while one-time addresses are better served when you sign up for free trials, newsletters, or whatever you suspect you have sold your email address. If your email address is compromised, you can disable it.
These tools are similar to the tracking blocking features implemented by Apple on iOS 14 and iOS 15, but DuckDuckGon’s approach integrates with iOS, Android, and all major web browsers. DuckDuckGo also makes it easy to collect one-time email addresses on the fly, for newsletters, or anywhere you might share email.
Protecting email privacy has been DuckDuckGo’s main goal when a company wants privacy-enhancing methods for a variety of 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 extension to remove tracking devices while surfing the web.
Email tracking has more than 70 percent of mailing lists, according to widely quoted The 2017 survey. Once enabled, they let advertisers find out when you open an email, where you are, when you open it, and what device you’re using. Deleting tracking from email removes data points from the list building hidden ad profiles of you who have become a priority for privacy advocates in recent years.
Weinberg said a consumer survey showed that asking people to switch to a completely new email address and service provider would be a tough pitch. So instead of creating a new email service, the Email Protection tool acts as a proxy layer that protects access to your mailbox.
“Our high-level goal is to provide simple privacy protection for everyone,” says CEO Gabriel Weinberg Limit. “So we will try to build this into any larger browser or operating system or email service you use. “
iPhone users may recognize the relay email address, a feature Apple introduced with iOS 14 Hide email. When you sign up for an app through an Apple device, iPhone may suggest a random Apple email address. Emails hit a random address, which prevents the app from knowing your real email address. In Apple iOS 15, the company introduces similar features to confuse email tracking programs and protect privacy.
Weinberg explains that DuckDuckGon’s email security differs from what Apple offers because it’s cross-platform, meaning you have a unified experience with one-time email addresses on mobile devices, desktop, iPhone, or Android. But it also differs in how software zags are tracked. Apple uploads tracking devices to its own servers, which send incorrect information back to the tracking servers. DuckDuckGo only deletes them from email before they are downloaded. This difference is insignificant for most users, but it is indeed a difference.
The installation of the tool is easy. Users log in 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 is used to determine the person’s order in the queue.
DuckDuckGo estimates the wait to be a couple of weeks, after which users will be notified that the feature has been set up. The installation process involves a little light reading of the privacy features and choosing a new “Duck.com” email address. One feature emphasized by the process is that DuckDuckGo does not see or save your email; the trace is removed from the servers’ memory (or RAM) and is never written to disk or hard disk. DuckDuckGo also built the forwarding software from scratch, so it didn’t have to rely on a third party to process emails before they arrived in your inbox.
The email protection feature also integrates with the DuckDuckGo mobile browser and desktop browser extension, allowing people to fill in your “@ duck.com” address or create a one-time address that forwards email to their inbox. Mobile and desktop browser extensions are linked by opening the link in your desktop browser’s Email Protection welcome email.
From the moment an email is received, scanned, cleaned from tracking devices, and forwarded to your email, DuckDuckGo adds a small bar to the top of the email and notifies you of any removed tracking software. Click this bar to allow the user to learn more about blocked tracking or to disable a one-time address that has been compromised.
Importantly, while the user can reply to the email they receive at “@ duck.com”, it cannot be used to send the email initially, which reduces the usefulness of the tool in harassing the harassment.
The feature will launch in a beta test, and DuckDuckGo will continue to explore how it works in the real world. The company is also working on a privacy-focused desktop browser, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2021, as part of a broader effort to provide privacy-focused options for every major activity online.
“Wherever you go online, we want to protect you,” Weinberg said.