Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo has released an email protection service to fight email tracking.
Currently in beta, the service provides users with a free @duck.com address. Emails to it are forwarded to the user’s regular address, but email trackers are stripped out by DuckDuckGo.
Email tracking techniques have become popular as a way to gather information on people. As many as 70% of emails contain trackers, DuckDuckGo warned. Simply opening an email can reveal when and where it was opened and on what device. While tracking frequently has benign uses, such as marketing, it is also open to abuse by unscrupulous parties.
Scammers and phishers can get data that allows them to target their campaigns, verifying that emails are still in use, knowing when people are likely the check their emails and when they’re in the office and when they’re at home.
Given that email tracking techniques are relatively simple and available in free services, individuals can use them in small-scale campaigns – employers can effectively use them to spy on employees, for example.
Even when the data is used legitimately, lax protection can allow potentially sensitive data to leak into the less responsible hands.
“Since it’s common for sites to upload your email address to Google and Facebook for ad targeting, or for your email to be leaked in a data breach, this extra level of identity protection is now unfortunately necessary,” a DuckDuckGo statement read.
In addition, the company said that it would not save the content of users’ emails. Through the group’s app, users can create and deactivate multiple email addresses, allowing them to create disposable addresses for different services.
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For many consumers, data privacy has been growing in importance in recent years. For a long time, it seemed that people were more interested in convenience than in how companies used their data.
Major events, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and in recent days, the Pegasus spyware revelation, have driven people to re-evaluate how safe their data is. While there still remains a gulf between people who care about their privacy and the so-called ‘privacy actives’ who take actions to protect their data, there are signs that the latter group is growing.
The number of people using VPNs, which helps protects a user’s internet activity, has increased in recent years, particularly over the pandemic.
As privacy rises on people’s agendas, there have been winners and losers. DuckDuckGo has been one of the beneficiaries – the group surpassed 100 million daily searches back in January.