Why You Should Use DuckDuckGo’s Email Protection

Block trackers, whatever email service you use

Key Takeaways

  • Email Protection strips trackers from your email.
  • DuckDuckGo never saves your emails.
  • Blocking email trackers is getting easier and easier.
DuckDuckGo illustration of removing email trackers

DuckDuckGo

Most non-personal emails you receive have trackers embedded in them, leaking all kinds of private information back to the sender. DuckDuckGo is here to put a stop to that.

DuckDuckGo’s new Email Protection sanitizes emails sent to you, removing the trackers before you receive them. It also lets you create throwaway Private Duck Addresses, which you can deactivate if they’re leaked or become overwhelmed with spam. And the DuckDuckGo browser extension can automatically fill out your Duck Address, or use a randomly generated Private Duck Address that also forwards to your inbox. All of this to minimize who’s tracking you online. 

"Seventy percent of emails contain trackers that can detect when you’ve opened a message, where you were when you opened it, and what device you were using," DuckDuckGo’s Allison Goodman told Lifewire via email. 

Private Email

When a marketer sends you an email, it usually contains a tracking pixel, an invisible image that’s loaded when you view the email, just like an image loading in a web browser. 

"As far as trackers, every single newsletter or sales email you receive allows the sender to know if you opened the email, how many times you've opened it, and also which links you've clicked," cybercrime detective Robert Holmes told Lifewire via email.

What’s more, because your computer has to request the image pixel, the marketer’s server knows your computer’s IP address, which means it can track your location, often down to the building you’re in.

"70% of emails contain trackers that can detect when you’ve opened a message... "

As awareness of email trackers has grown, email services have started to shut them down. Email provider Fastmail caches all images on its own servers, effectively blocking trackers before they get to you. And in the upcoming iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, Apple not only blocks tracking pixels, but allows you to generate disposable email addresses that forward to your actual email address, so you never have to give your actual email to anyone. 

DuckDuckGo brings the same protection to anyone, no matter what device or email service you use. It’s essentially a filter your email goes through before you see it, scoured of all privacy-violating tech. 

How DuckDuckGo’s Email Protection Works

It works like this: You sign up for DuckDuckGo Email Protection, and choose a new Duck address. Now, whenever you sign up for something, you can use your Duck address. Any incoming mail will be routed through DuckDuckGo’s servers and sanitized. 

What about privacy, you ask? Doesn’t this mean DuckDuckGo can read your emails? Yes and no. Email is sent in clear, plain text. Every server it passes through on the way to you can read the entire contents of any mail. 

Protect Mail Activity setting in iOS

DuckDuckGo is just another server along the way, and it doesn’t save anything apart from your email address.

"The only thing we save is a user's email address where we need to forward emails, which is the bare minimum required to have the service work," says Goodman. "DuckDuckGo will never save users' emails for this service. We don't need to. When we receive an email, we immediately remove trackers from it and then forward it to the user, never saving it on our systems."

And think about this: Do you trust DuckDuckGo more or less than your current email provider? If you’re using Google’s Gmail, for example, you probably trust DuckDuckGo more. 

Privacy Essentials

Email is fundamentally insecure. It’s unencrypted, and works more like an open postcard than a letter in a sealed envelope. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept privacy violations.

DuckDuckGo proof of tracker removal

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo’s offering is great, because it can be used by anyone. You may use Gmail, iCloud Mail, or Exchange email at work, or a privacy-first email provider like Fastmail. It doesn’t matter, because DuckDuckGo’s Email Protection works before the mail gets to Google or wherever.

Email may be weak in terms of security, but its strength is its open nature. It’s possible to build all kinds of services on top of it. Some of these are invasive, but others are pro-user. 

The good news is trackers seem to be on their way out. The tide is against them, and if you have any privacy concerns at all, it’s now trivially easy to circumvent them.

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