A new warning to Android users as a staggering number of spooky trackers hidden in popular apps suddenly unveil. Apple has already killed this spyware for iPhone users, and just released a new free app to do the same on Android.
Apples App Tracking Transparency has turned the digital advertising industry upside down this year, clearing billions of dollars from revenue lines such as Facebook. Great innovation allows apps to ask iPhone users for explicit permission and then track users between apps or across the web.
When this new privacy feature was first promoted, the industry was entertainingly hoping that users would choose tracking to better adjust the ads they were following online. The rest of us were able to find out that hope was a pure fantasy. As expected, users haven’t chosen to be tracked and the majority say no. Who thought?
App tracking transparency
Google has previously copied Apple’s innovations. It may be a drag, but Apple has set a non-negligible privacy agenda. As a result, you now have better control over smartphone data, location tracking protection, alerts when apps use cameras and microphones, and timeboxed app permissions.
But Google is a digital advertising giant behind the scenes of Android, Chrome, and other platforms, with a spider web of trackers and data algorithms. As a result, when it comes to tracking apps, tech giants are as tied up as Chrome and third-party tracking cookies on privacy labels.
Cue DuckDuckGo. Privacy-first search engines and browser extensions have intervened to fill the Google-shaped gap when it comes to tracking apps. We’ve just released a beta version of the new App Tracking Protection, blocking apps on Android devices from tracking your smartphone and using your data. Its purpose is to provide Android users with the same level of protection as iPhone users.
DuckDuckGo told me that it has the largest and most comprehensive list of trackers in the industry. Even Apple uses this dataset to validate trackers that are blocked in Safari. The team wants to protect the people in their current location and spend most of their time within the mobile app. Over the years, we have invested in tracker radar to identify companies and technologies that track people online.
App tracking protection
As the company says, these hidden app trackers are very creepy because they can track everything you do with your app and keep track of it even when you’re not using it. Many are designed to record your activity in real time: where you are, what you are doing, where you were, and even how many hours you sleep at night.
According to DuckDuckGo, 96% of the Android apps we tested contained such a hidden tracker. 87% of them sent the data back to Google and 68% sent the data back to Facebook. Facebook statistics aren’t surprising, but Google statistics should be spectacular.
Remember that Google is behind the Android OS and behind the new privacy protections added in Android 10 and 11. Its poacher and gamekeeper. This is the same criticism that the company has leveled over 75% control of Chrome (the most popular browser in the world) and web trackers.
Google and Facebook can spy on almost everything you do on your phone, DuckDuckGo told me where you go with it and so on. The team told me that even if the user resets their Android Advertising ID, it would help stop the ongoing tracking, but it would be of little use. The app sends multiple other persistent identifiers, such as device, email address, GPS location information, and so on.
I tested tracking protection, installed (randomly) four new apps on my phone, and then only opened each app once. Within minutes, the new DuckDuckGo app tracking protection reported more than 60 tracking attempts on these four apps. Imagine that when I installed and opened the app, the app immediately contacted the handler and started spying on me and my activity.
App tracking protection
The DuckDuckGo solution is in your existing app. It offers the same wide range of protection as the Apples App Tracking Transparency, with two major differences.
First, unlike the iPhone, if you install and enable protection, it will work with all apps on your device. You don’t have to manage settings apps for each app, and you don’t depend on each of those apps to follow your tastes. The difference is good, but the downside is that some apps that visit your website as part of a core feature may not work properly. You will see what was identified on the dashboard.
This technology then works by creating a local VPN over the phone. It’s programmed with the URL of the tracking site that your app’s mainstream trackers are trying to access. It simply blocks that traffic. This solution is more robust than telling the app to ignore the user’s advertising ID, but if you enable full VPN while traveling or using public Wi-Fi, the DuckDuckGo solution will pause. Will be done.
Similar to recent solutions that block email tracking, DuckDuckGo has launched app tracking protection as a private beta. This means that you can grant access to more users each week and join the waiting list. While working to deliver the right experience, we decided to release App Tracking Protection in beta. It’s in beta, but there are some apps that are excluded because they rely on tracking to work properly. We hope to reduce this list further in the future.
This hidden data collection facilitates algorithms that influence how we feel, think and shop. According to DuckDuckGo, this data allows us to create more detailed digital profiles on tracking networks such as Facebook and Google … Tracking networks can manipulate what is displayed online and target with ads based on behavior. You can set up and sell your data to others. Companies such as data brokers, advertisers, governments.
Apples ATT has been a huge success, an instant game changer for iPhone privacy, killing many of the app tracking possibilities on these devices. Currently, DuckDuckGo wants to do the same for Android users who have new updates installed.
I contacted Facebook and Google about the release of this new technology or the scale of the hidden tracking it exposed. In the meantime, you can join the waiting list for app tracking protection via the DuckDuckGos app.
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