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DuckDuckGo’s new tools can stop Google from tracking you in Chrome

Published Apr 12th, 2021 3:43PM EDT
Google Chrome Tracking
Image: Kyodo/Newscom/The Mega Agency

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Google promised to remove the third-party cookies from Chrome that are widely used to track users online for advertising purposes. But Google remains one of the most important players in the online ads business. The company will replace the cookies with a technology that it claims will enhance user privacy. FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) — the new user tracking technology — analyzes browsing history to put the user into groups with similar interests. They will then be served personalized ads based on that data.

Google says FLoC will protect user privacy while user data is collected for personalized ads. Some have criticized Google’s new tool and the way the company is talking about it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explained in a series of blog posts why FLoC is a terrible idea, saying that the technology might lead to abuse, allowing third parties to fingerprint users. More recently, the non-profit launched a tool that tells users whether they’ve been included in Google’s early FLoC pilot. The test enrolls users automatically, without letting them choose whether or not to participate and without offering clear instructions on how to opt-out once they’re in.

DuckDuckGo, the company behind a popular Google Search alternative that doesn’t track users, is taking matters into its own hands, looking to block Chrome’s FLoC tracking with two separate tools.

There is one way to stop FLoC tracking on Chrome right now, and that’s to block third-party cookies. But, unless you know that blocking cookies can also prevent FLoC tracking, you won’t find a FLoC-specific setting in Chrome.

The simplest way to prevent FLoC tracking in Chrome is to set DuckDuckGo as the browser’s default search engine. FLoC is supposed to run automatically on Chrome once it launches, but that won’t happen if DuckDuckGo is your choice for online searches. Per Search Engine Journal, FLoC tracking is blocked on all devices by default when DuckDuckGo search is used. The feature is already live for all users.

Users who want to stick with Google or choose a search engine other than DuckDuckGo, but still want to opt-out of FLoC, can try out DuckDuckGo’s other tool targeting Google’s new tracking technology.

DuckDuckGo has a browser extension for Chrome which has been updated with the ability to block FLoC on websites. Unlike the previous method, which is already live, the browser extension update needed to be approved. Google handles the approval process for all Chrome extensions before they go live. So it was up to Google to allow the extension’s new feature to go live. Search Engine Journal noted that DuckDuckGo was confident Google would approve the update, and the FLoC-blocking feature would be enabled once version 2021.4.8 rolled out. DuckDuckGo’s Privacy Essentials extension update has since been released, and it’s available now on the Chrome Web Store.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.