A new DuckDuckGo tool claims to protect Android users from apps that track them

Wired first reported on DuckDuckGo's new tool, which aims to prevent apps from tracking Android users. App Tracking Protection aims to provide better protection against third-party trackers than Apple's App Tracking Transparency feature, which allows users to opt-out of data tracking within apps.

DuckDuckGo's tool, on the other hand, hasn't been rolled out to all Android phones as part of an update, nor is it available as a separate download — it's built into DuckDuckGo's privacy-focused browser app, but it works on any device. The company claims that the tool will block "trackers it identifies in other apps from third-party companies" in a blog post.

When you enable App Tracking Protection, it will run in the background while you are using your phone. When the tool detects that an app is about to send data to a third-party tracker, it will prevent the app from doing so.

According to DuckDuckGo, it's "constantly working to identify and protect against new trackers," which means your data should be safe from any new trackers that emerge. You should be able to see a real-time view of trackers that the tool has blocked, as well as where your data would've been going, from the DuckDuckGo app.

The company says that although its App Tracking Protection tool isn’t a virtual private network (VPN), your device will behave as if it is one. “This is because App Tracking Protection uses a local ‘VPN connection’ which means that it works its magic right on your smartphone,” DuckDuckGo explains in its post. “However, App Tracking Protection is different from VPNs because it never routes app data through an external server.”

DuckDuckGo discovered that more than 96 percent of the most popular free Android apps contain third-party trackers that most users are unaware of while conducting its own test. 87 percent of these apps send user data to Google, while 68 percent send data to Facebook, according to the company.

The tool is currently in beta, but you can join the private waitlist (without providing any personal information). To get started, go to the Google Play Store and download DuckDuckGo. In the "Privacy Section," go to "Settings," then "App Tracking Protection." Select "Join the Private Waitlist" from the drop-down menu. Every week, DuckDuckGo claims to be rolling out the feature to more people.

As Wired points out, DuckDuckGo doesn't have the same power as Google to change the internal configuration of Android devices, which means DuckDuckGo's tool can't provide the same app tracking permission prompts that appear on Android and iOS. However, you can help protect your data from third-party trackers and apps by combining the App Tracking Protection tool with the privacy settings already in place on Android devices. Google, like Apple, has recently made it more difficult for apps to collect data on users by denying them access to their Advertising IDs after they've opted out of tracking.