A Quick Review of DuckDuckGo’s New Privacy-Focused Web Browser

The search engine’s new browser is currently in a private beta, and shows great promise. But will users take note?
DuckDuckGo Browser
It sure looks like a modern web browser

After launching in 2008, the DuckDuckGo search engine soon made a name for itself with its focus on user privacy. Unlike Google, which collects anything and everything about you, DuckDuckGo states, quite emphatically, on their homepage: “We don’t store your personal information. Ever.”

Recent years have found DuckDuckGo making a push beyond just being a search engine, though, and adopting a more comprehensive approach to user privacy. To that end, they’ve released a Chrome plugin and mobile apps for iOS and Android that combine their search functionality with enhanced encryption and ad tracker blocking. But DuckDuckGo took their efforts to a new level earlier this month, when they announced their very own web browser.

Note: DuckDuckGo’s browser is in a private beta. If you want to try it out for yourself, you’ll need to join the waitlist via DuckDuckGo’s mobile app.

Currently available for Macs only — though a Windows version is “coming soon” — DuckDuckGo’s web browser uses the same built-in rendering engine as Safari for improved performance, which is then combined with various privacy-focused features. These features include cookie consent pop-up management, a newsfeed that displays all of the ways that sites have tried to track you, and blocking content that contains tracking code (e.g., Facebook embeds).

Duckduckgo browser 03
That’s a lot of blocking going on

As you can see in the above screenshots, DuckDuckGo looks very similar to Chrome, with tabs across the top of the combined search field and URL bar (i.e., omnibar). When you launch DuckDuckGo the first time, you’ll be asked to import bookmarks, passwords, etc., and given the option to make it your default browser. You can also specify certain bookmarks as “favorites,” for even quicker access. All of which is pretty standard for a modern web browser.

But DuckDuckGo’s privacy features quickly become apparent upon visiting your first website. If said website contains any tracking code (e.g., Google Analytics), then you’ll see a little animation in the omnibar that gives you an indication of what’s being blocked. (This is a nice bit of reinforcement, showing you that DuckDuckGo is doing its job and proving its value.) Clicking on the omnibar’s shield icon then opens a pop-up that lists everything that was blocked.

I’ve added screenshots of some popular sites to give you an idea of just how much DuckDuckGo blocks.

DuckDuckGo Browser - The Verge Blocked
DuckDuckGo blocked 10 trackers on theverge.com
DuckDuckGo Browser - CNN Blocked
DuckDuckGo blocked 27 trackers on cnn.com
DuckDuckGo Browser - Polygon Blocked
DuckDuckGo blocked 11 trackers on polygon.com
DuckDuckGo Browser - Cnet Blocked
DuckDuckGo blocked 6 trackers on cnet.com, including some tracking content at the top of the page
DuckDuckGo Browser - Fox News Blocked
DuckDuckGo blocked 37 trackers on foxnews.com

For what it’s worth, most of those blocked trackers were for advertising and analytics. In the case of Fox News’ website, for example, those trackers came from companies ranging from Google and Amazon to Adobe, Oracle, and Taboola.

Another privacy feature is the ability to instantly delete any and all site data by clicking the little fire icon in the browser window’s upper-right corner. Doing so gives you the option to clear all data from every site you’ve ever visited, from all of the sites that you’ve visited across all tabs in the current window, or just the sites that you’ve visited in the current tab. (The deletion process is accentuated by a nice fire animation.)

You can also mark sites as “fireproof” so that their data isn’t lost when everything else is wiped. This is useful if you want to stay logged in at some sites but delete everything else.

Performance-wise, DuckDuckGo is solid, as you’d expect for a browser using macOS’ built-in rendering engine. I didn’t do any official speed tests, but the browser feels snappy and I didn’t see any rendering issues or glitches. That being said, there was a noticeable delay between the moment I pressed Command-N to open a new window and when that new window actually appeared and became usable. (And this was on a 27-inch 5K iMac with 40 GB of RAM.) By contrast, new windows open immediately in Safari and Chrome.

Given that DuckDuckGo’s browser is currently in beta, it’s missing some features that more developed browsers have. Arguably the biggest feature missing is support for browser extensions. But this is by design. While DuckDuckGo hasn’t ruled out extension support, they also note that the most popular extensions are password managers and ad blockers — and that functionality already exists in their browser. (Of course, there are many different kinds of browser extensions out there, so I suspect that DuckDuckGo will eventually add some level of extension support to meet user demand.)

DuckDuckGo’s also missing some really useful accessibility features, like setting a minimum font size and accessing a webpage’s links and form fields with the “Tab” key. Hopefully, these will be added in subsequent updates, too.

Given Chrome’s dominance, releasing a new web browser in 2022 might seem like a rather silly endeavor. (According to StatCounter, Chrome accounted for 64.5% of all global browser traffic in 2021. Safari was a distant second with 18.8%.) However, I’m a firm believer in giving users options, and I consider any attempt to challenge Google’s hegemony a good thing.

But the bigger challenge for DuckDuckGo might not be Google so much as differentiating itself from Safari, which, in addition to being Apple’s default browser, also contains a lot of privacy features. Apple has made protecting user privacy one of their core values (and major selling points), particularly with Safari and its “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” feature.

All in all, though, DuckDuckGo’s Mac browser is off to a solid start. Even as a beta product, it looks to be a welcome addition alongside other alternative browsers like Brave and Vivaldi for users who want more control over their online privacy.

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