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Your Android apps are tracking you. Here's how to stop them

Want to block third-party trackers on your Android phone? This feature from DuckDuckGo can help with that. Here's how to enable it.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
man's hands using a smartphone
Getty Images/Anita Kot

DuckDuckGo started out as a privacy-focused search engine. It obviously had (and still has) seriously stiff competition with Google. But the company behind the search engine wasn't content with just offering that one service and soon began building a web browser. Said web browser was built, from the ground up, to be just as privacy-centric as the search engine. 

Also: The best browsers for privacy now

The first platform to receive the DuckDuckGo browser was Android and although I don't use it as my go-to mobile browser, there is one feature that I've grown to absolutely depend on. That feature is called App Tracking Protection and it blocks third-party trackers that lurk in the apps you've installed. That's right, tracking doesn't just occur within a web browser, but also happens within any of those apps you've installed. 

In today's world of constant privacy invasions and security threats, you'll want to block any type of tracking you can. Since installing DuckDuckGo and enabling App Tracking Protection, I get a fairly steady stream of tracker blocking when an app isn't in use or even when an app hasn't been opened for weeks or months. 

Also: Your phone contains your most personal information. Here's how to keep it safe

Here's an example: Within the past 5 hours, DuckDuckGo App Tracking Protection has blocked the following:

  • 120 Tracking attempts from the Discogs app.
  • 12 Tracking attempts from the Bitwarden app.
DuckDuckGo's Tracking Attempts dashboard.

Two apps within the past hour have had tracking attempts blocked by DuckDuckGo.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

DuckDuckGo blocked every one of those attempts, without me having to do anything. With those tracking attempts blocked, the apps (and the companies behind them) cannot track my behavior either when I'm using the app or not using it. And given that companies often track you via apps they don't even own, the need for such privacy protection is amplified. 

Also: 7 things you didn't realize your phone can do

You too can enjoy such privacy. There is one caveat, however. The App Tracking Protection has been in beta for some time. However, unlike when the feature first arrived, you no longer have to get an invite to the program, as it is available to all users.

Let's install DuckDuckGo on Android and get the App Tracking Protection feature enabled.

How to add App Tracking Protection

What you'll need: The only things you'll need is an Android device and a valid Google account (so you can use the Google Play Store to install the software).

1. Open Google Play Store

The first thing to do is log into your Android device and open the Google Play Store from the App Drawer.

2. Install DuckDuckGo

Search for DuckDuckGo in the Google Play store, tap the entry, and then tap Install.

Once the installation is finished, you should find the DuckDuckGo app in your App Drawer. Tap the launcher to open the app.

3. Locate App Tracking Protection

With the app open, tap the menu (three vertical buttons in the top right) and tap Settings from the popup menu. Scroll to the bottom of the Settings menu and tap App Tracking Protection. 

4. Enable App Tracking Protection

Enable App Tracking Protection by tapping the On/Off slider until it's in the On position. 


App Tracking Protection has been enabled on my Pixel 6 Pro.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

5. Enable the VPN connection

You will then be informed that a VPN connection will be established. This isn't a true VPN connection, but your Android device will recognize it as such. This is safe and normal. When prompted tap OK.

The DuckDuckGO Connection Request popup.

You must allow the VPN connection for App Tracking Protection to work.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

At this point, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the added protection DuckDuckGo offers. You'll get notifications every time an app tracker is blocked and you'll be surprised at how often that happens.

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