DuckDuckGo is launching a new email protection service aimed at preventing ad companies from spying on your inbox.
The company’s new email protection feature offers users a free “@ duck.com” email address, which will forward emails to their regular inbox after scanning their content for trackers and removing them. . DuckDuckGo is also expanding this feature with unique disposable forwarding addresses, which can be easily generated in DuckDuckGo’s mobile browser or via desktop browser extensions.
DuckDuckGo personal email is intended to be delivered to friends and contacts you know, while disposable addresses are best served when you sign up for free trials, newsletters, or anywhere you suspect may be selling your email address. If the email address is compromised, you can easily disable it.
These tools are similar to the anti-tracking features implemented by Apple in iOS 14 and iOS 15, but the approach of DuckDuckGo integrates into iOS, Android and all major web browsers. DuckDuckGo will also make it easy to create disposable email addresses on the go, for newsletters, or anywhere you can share your email.
Addressing email privacy has been a major goal for DuckDuckGo, as the company seeks privacy-friendly methods for various online tasks. The company started with its search engine of the same name DuckDuckGo and more recently has introduced its own mobile browser and desktop browser extensions for remove trackers while browsing the web.
Email trackers exist on more than 70 percent of mailing lists, according to a much-cited 2017 study. Once implemented, they allow advertisers to 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 create hidden ad profiles about you, which have become a priority for privacy advocates in recent years.
Weinberg said consumer research showed that asking people to switch to an entirely new email address and provider would be a difficult proposition. So instead of creating a new email service, the Email Protection tool acts as a middle layer that protects access to your inbox.
“Our high-level goal is to make simple privacy protection available to everyone, anywhere,” CEO Gabriel Weinberg told The Verge. “So we are trying to integrate this into any major browser, operating system, or email provider that you use.”
How to set up this new feature
IPhone users may recognize the concept of a relay email address, a feature Apple introduced with iOS 14 called Hide My Email. When registering for an application through an Apple device, your iPhone may suggest a random Apple email address. The emails arrive at the random address, which prevents the app from knowing your real email. In Apple’s iOS 15, the company is introducing similar features to confuse email trackers and protect privacy.
Weinberg explains that DuckDuckGo’s email protection is different from Apple’s offerings because it is cross-platform, meaning you have a unified experience with disposable email addresses on mobile devices, desktop computers, iPhone, or Android. But it also differs in the way the software is applied to trackers. Apple uploads trackers to its own servers, which send erroneous information to trackers’ servers. DuckDuckGo simply removes them from the email before they load. This difference for most users is negligible, but it is actually 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 Protection. They can then join the waiting list, which DuckDuckGo says it’s novel because it doesn’t collect an email address; stores a timestamp in the app that is used to designate the person’s order in line.
DuckDuckGo estimates that the wait will be a couple of weeks, after which users will receive a notification to configure the feature. The setup process includes a light read on privacy features and choosing a new “Duck.com” email address. One feature that emphasizes the process is that DuckDuckGo does not view or save your email; Tracker removal is done in your servers memory (or RAM) and is never written to a disk or hard drive. DuckDuckGo also developed the forwarding software from scratch, so you didn’t have to rely on a third party to also process the emails before they reached your inbox.
How the DuckDuckGo email protection service works
The email protection service also integrates with the DuckDuckGo mobile browser and desktop browser extension, giving people the option to fill in your address «@ duck.com» or generate a disposable address that forwards the email to your inbox. The desktop and mobile browser extensions are linked when you open a link in the Email Protection welcome email in your desktop browser.
From then on, when the email is received, scanned, cleaned of trackers, and forwarded to your email, DuckDuckGo inserts a small bar at the top of the email notifying if any trackers have been removed. By clicking on that bar, the user can learn more about blocked trackers or deactivate a disposable address that has been compromised.
Fundamentally, while a user can reply to an email that receive at an address “@ duck.com”, it cannot be used to initially send an email, which reduces the utility of the harassment wash tool.
The feature will launch 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 finish by the end of 2021, as part of a broader push to offer privacy-focused alternatives for every major online activity.
“Wherever you go online, we want to protect you,” Weinberg said.