App Tracking Protection for Android: Block trackers stalking your apps

App Tracking Protection for Android: Block trackers stalking your apps

By Valentina Tuta

It recently came to light that DuckDuckGo is launching App Tracking Protection for Android in beta, a new feature in the existing app that will block most third-party trackers like Google and Facebook that are lurking in other apps.

Hidden trackers

You’ve probably heard of some companies tracking you behind the scenes in smartphone apps that they don’t own (such is the example of Google hiding in the Nike app).

Certainly, these hidden app trackers are super creepy, as they can track everything you do in an app and can also continue to track you even when you’re not using the app.

What’s more, many of them are designed to log your activity in real time. Then, they usually collect data such as where you are, what you’re doing, where you’ve been, and even how many hours you sleep at night.

Consequently, your personal information is sent to dozens of third-party companies thousands of times a week. So this data allows networks like Facebook and Google to track you so they can create even more detailed digital profiles about you. With those profiles, tracking networks can manipulate what you see online, target you with ads based on your behavior, and even sell your data to other companies, such as data brokers, advertisers, and governments.

Application tracking transparency

Currently, more than 96% of the popular free Android apps we tested (according to rankings) contain hidden third-party trackers. Of those, 87% sent data to Google and 68% sent data to Facebook. A report by AppCensus found similar results.

For that reason, Apple introduced its App Tracking Transparency program. A new feature for iPhones and iPads asks users on a per-app basis whether they want to allow third-party app tracking or not, with the vast majority of people opting out.

However, it is a fact that the majority of smartphone carriers worldwide are Android users, an operating system that does not include a similar feature. In fact, advertisers are now spending more money on Android, apparently because it is now easier to track there. Therefore, we are pleased to announce the beta version of App Tracking Protection for Android.

DuckDuckGo App Tracking Protection for Android BETA

This new initiative integrated into the DuckDuckGo application is free and blocks most of the trackers it identifies in other applications from third-party companies (other than the company that owns each application).

How does it work?

As you will see, DuckDuckGo has an app tracking data set. Thus, after you enable App Tracking Protection, the app will detect when your Android apps are about to send data to third-party tracking companies to block most of those requests. 

And don’t worry about app performance because you can enjoy your apps as you normally do while App Tracking Protection will run in the background and continue to block trackers detected in all your apps, even while you sleep.

In addition, the company has stated that they will continue to work to identify new trackers and continually strengthen their security. So you can rest easy knowing that you are getting the most up-to-date protection.

While App Tracking Protection is not a virtual private network (VPN), your device will recognize it as such because it uses a local VPN connection, which means it works directly on your smartphone. Nevertheless, App Tracking Protection is different from VPNs because it never routes app data through an external server.

From the app interface, you can now see a real-time view of App Tracking Protection’s blocking trackers, as well as which tracking networks they tried to send data to. In addition, if you have notifications enabled, you will also receive automatic summaries.

Join the private beta waitlist

If you want to get access to the beta version of App Tracking Protection, you can do it by joining the private waiting list. The developers let new people join every week, so the sooner you join, the sooner you’ll be protecting your app’s privacy.

What’s even better is that you won’t need to share any personal information to join the private waiting list. In fact, you’ll secure your place online with a date and time that exists only on your device, and we’ll notify you when we’re ready for you to join.

Once you are notified, be sure to follow these steps:

  1. Download DuckDuckGo for Android (or update to the latest version).
  2. Open Settings > App Tracking Protection (in the Privacy section).
  3. Click “Join the Private Waitlist.”

We want to hear from you

The developers of App Tracking Protection decided to launch a beta version to give users a chance to try it out so that they can work on improvements to make the experience almost perfect. In the meantime, the team has explained some details that still need to be improved for the final version but would be good for you to keep in mind.

First, there are a small number of applications that are excluded because they rely on tracking to function properly. A small number of trackers are also excluded because they cause critical failures, such as not being able to log in to applications.

But don’t worry, the company is working hard every day to try to further reduce these lists over time. Likewise, they mentioned that browser apps and apps with featured in-app browsers are also currently excluded by default because App Tracking Protection breaks them. Therefore, they recommend using their browser app to ensure more private browsing. Additionally, you can submit general feedback or problems with the DuckDuckGo application by following the path: Settings > Share Feedback (in the section Others). 

If you experience problems with any other app on your smartphone as a result of App Tracking Protection (e.g. videos do not load properly, you cannot upload/send files, you experience download issues, the app feels slow, etc.), you can disable protection for that app only in Manage Protections for your apps. You will then be prompted to provide details of the problem you experienced.

For now, we wish the developers of App Tracking Protection the best of luck, as it is a phenomenal initiative for Android users that, to tell the truth, is long overdue. So much so in the digital age, where cybersecurity and user privacy are easily sabotaged.

You will then be prompted to provide details of the problem you experienced.

For now, we wish the developers of App Tracking Protection the best of luck, as it is a phenomenal initiative for Android users that, to tell the truth, is long overdue. Even more so in the digital age, where cyber security and user privacy are easily sabotaged.

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