For years, DuckDuckGo has worked to create a privacy-focused alternative to Google. Lately, however, it has bolstered its position as the privacy champion with a list of new tools: its extension and mobile apps block trackers on both browsers and phones, it lets you protect your inbox with free disposable email addresses, the list goes on. The latest addition to this suite is the DuckDuckGo desktop browser, and in more ways than one, it’s the culmination of the startup’s efforts to give you a way to break free from Big Tech.
There’s no shortage of privacy-focused browsers, and if DuckDuckGo is already available as an add-on, what’s the need for another? DuckDuckGo says its goal with its new browser is relatively simple: it wants to manifest its “privacy, simplified” slogan. The company says most people won’t bother downloading and setting up a slew of extensions to cover their tracks online. So they are all packed into the DuckDuckGo browser, and once someone installs it, they don’t have to worry about anything else. On top of that, there are limits to what it can control on a third-party product, and as a result, DuckDuckGo browser has a few features that you won’t find on its extensions.
Also, with Chrome extensions, you’re still trusting a big company like Google to respect your choices, which has backfired on you many times. That’s why he develops everything from scratch. The DuckDuckGo browser, unlike many of its peers, isn’t programmed on the same engine that powers Google Chrome and instead takes advantage of the operating system’s built-in services, which in the case of macOS, is Apple’s WebKit.
I’ve been testing the new DuckDuckGo browser in an early access beta for a week now on my mac mini. Here’s what it’s like to use it.
If you’ve used DuckDuckGo’s mobile apps or extensions before, you’ll feel right at home on its browser. It comes with an assortment of familiar tools. The fire button at the top right allows you to erase all traces of browsing data collected from any tab or window since you have been using it with a single click. The shield icon on the address bar tells you if DuckDuckGo is functional on the site you are viewing and what trackers it has crushed on it. By default, the DuckDuckGo browser also integrates you into the Global Privacy Control program, instructing compatible websites to restrict or not sell your personal data. The default search engine, of course, is DuckDuckGo, and you can’t change it yet.
The centerpiece of the new DuckDuckGo desktop browser, however, is its homepage. Along with your favorite websites and your recent browsing history, this is where you’ll find a timeline of all the ways DuckDuckGo has protected you from websites trying to spy on you. It’s a bold move designed to constantly remind you of the privacy trade-offs you’re accepting over competitors, and it makes you think twice before revisiting a website equipped with nearly a hundred trackers.
What I found especially handy was DuckDuckGo’s built-in cookie blocker. It automatically rejects those pesky cookie requests that you have to accept before entering most websites, and DuckDuckGo says it can save you trouble on over 50% of them. For me, it worked on just about every website I visited. This is not a first, others like it Vivaldi it already offers, but DuckDuckGo’s implementation seems to be more efficient based on my time with it.
With its own desktop browser, DuckDuckGo also aims to end a common online misconception once and for all: the “private” incognito mode fallacy. Incognito mode only stops the browser recording your browsing history and doesn’t stop anyone from spying on you, so DuckDuckGo gets rid of it completely and instead expects users to just tap the fire icon when they want a session to disappear from their browsing data.
“Incognito mode betrays users’ expectations of privacy, and as a result, we believe it does more harm than good,” Beah Burger-Lenehan, chief product officer at DuckDuckGo, told Laptop Mag.
While these privacy tools are nice to have by default, the rest of the DuckDuckGo browser looks like it does right now: a beta preview. It lacks a long list of features that everyone expects from any web browser. There’s no bookmarks bar, dedicated history page, tab grouping and pinning, extension support, cross-platform syncing, customization, and more.
While DuckDuckGo says it plans to bring many of these features to its desktop browser eventually, it takes a more cautious (and ambitious) stance on third-party extensions. Instead of giving users access to a huge marketplace of add-ons they can’t always control, DuckDuckGo will offer in-house alternatives to popular categories, such as password managers, vpn, and others. But that will undoubtedly take months, and for now you either have to rely on desktop clients or copy and paste credentials from another browser.
Since it currently lacks so many standard browser capabilities and blocks trackers before sites can even activate them, coupled with its reliance on macOS’s native rendering engine, it’s surprisingly fast at loading web pages. and consumes less data and memory. Even with many active tabs and windows, the DuckDuckGo browser refuses to slow down, but I wonder how future updates will affect this performance.
If DuckDuckGo claims to opt for the most private browser title, it will also have to improve its anti-fingerprint mechanisms. So far it’s failed. EFF Cover Your Track Test, which tells you whether it’s possible for sites to uniquely identify you based on your computer’s properties such as display size and operating system version. Fingerprint tracking is on the rise with browsers rushing to break cookies, and only a few like Brave have the chops to fully protect you from it.
DuckDuckGo is moving in the right direction with its “privacy made easy” approach, and its desktop browser is the final piece of the puzzle for those invested in its ecosystem. Although its built-in features work well, it is not yet ready to replace your current browser. At least not until its v1.0 release and the addition of some standard features like tab management and a bookmarks bar. Until then, you’ll have a better experience on other privacy-focused browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox.
The DuckDuckGo browser is currently only available for macOS, and a Windows version is expected to arrive later this year. If you want to try on your Mac, you’ll need to join the private waitlist on the DuckDuckGo mobile app.