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Friday, February 3, 2023

How to use DuckDuckGo’s email protection app

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It’s well-known that filling in a form with your email address — say, to get a discount on a product, receive a newsletter, or get the results of a quiz — means you are going to get email from that vendor, and possibly from a bunch of other vendors and / or advertisers, forever.

One of the ways to subvert this has traditionally been to create a free email account to use for sites that you want to register with but that you suspect will be the gateway for a large amount of spam. This is what I did. However, over time, that designated email account can become so well-used that it stops being a hidey-hole for spam and becomes another account that offers advertisers and others a source for information to aggregate.

This is where DuckDuckGo’s latest product comes in.

DuckDuckGo is a browser that is known for its security and privacy safeguards. Recently, the company came up with a new feature to help its users keep their info to themselves: DuckDuckGo Email Protection. It provides you with a special email address that you can use as an intermediary for sites that you suspect will probably collect data on you.

It works this way: you use your DuckDuckGo address for any site that is suspicious (or just commercial). All email that is sent to that email address will be filtered for hidden trackers and then forwarded to your “normal” email address.

Intrigued? The feature is currently in beta, but you can sign up if you want to give it a try. According to a company rep, they are keeping a waitlist, and people will be picked up from that waitlist “on a week to week basis.” DuckDuckGo is planning to eventually offer invites that its users can distribute as well.

How to sign up

So, with all that in mind, here’s how to sign up and use the new DuckDuckGo Email Protection feature.

Sign up from the DuckDuckGo mobile app. (You can find links to Apple’s App Store and Google Play here.)

Once you’ve installed the app, go to “Settings” > “Email Protection.” Here, you can join the private waitlist (or enter an invite code, if you have one).

Your invite will probably come in the form of a link. Go ahead and click the link. You’ll be taken through a series of screens that explain that DuckDuckGo does not save your emails, use your data for advertising, and that your data is encrypted, among other things.

After you’ve read the usual service terms, you get to choose your unique DuckDuckGo email address (a combination of 3 to 30 letters or numbers which will be appended with @duck.com). You also need to specify an address where your email should be forwarded.

DuckDuckGo Email Protection gives you an extra email address to use to avoid trackers.

Now, whenever you use the DuckDuckGo email address to fill in a form, any email that is then sent to that DuckDuckGo address — an acknowledgment, an ad, a newsletter, whatever — will first go through DuckDuckGo’s servers and then will be delivered to your usual email address stripped, according to the company, of any trackers that were attached to it.

How the beta works

As I tested out the beta of DuckDuckGo’s email feature I found one or two glitches, but on the whole, it did seem to operate as promised.

I signed up at two sites using the duck.com address. The emailed acknowledgment from the first, Allrecipes, took over an hour to appear in my regular Gmail listing. There was a statement at the top that “DuckDuckGo removed trackers from LiveIntent and more.” I clicked on the statement and was taken to a DuckDuckGo website that listed a tracker from LiveIntent (an ad distributor) and Allrecipes itself.

An email sent through DuckDuckGo will include an accounting of the trackers that were removed.

An email sent through DuckDuckGo will include an accounting of the trackers that were removed.

Click on the tracking report on your email, and you’ll be given more details.

Click on the tracking report on your email, and you’ll be given more details.

After I signed up with the second retailer, a clothing company called Travelsmith, I got an email from the company in the “Promotions” section of my Gmail account within a few seconds. It told me that “DuckDuckGo removed 1 tracker.” I clicked on the statement; it was a single tracker from Travelsmith.

Browser extension

Right after you register for the email account, DuckDuckGo offers to install an extension on your browser (according to a company rep, the extension is available for all major browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Brave, and Safari). This extension lets you autofill forms with your DuckDuckGo email address or with a randomly generated address (which will also forward to your chosen email account).

The browser extension lets you autofill fields. (The email address here was edited for privacy.)

The browser extension lets you autofill fields. (The email address here was edited for privacy.)

The browser extension comes with several other interesting features. It reports on the number of trackers on the current site and rates it for security. It also enables something called Site Privacy Protection which, according to DuckDuckGo, “blocks social media embedded content by default” in order to prevent tracking codes from being loaded.

Be aware, though, that this particular feature can interfere with certain sites. For example, it prevented me from typing this article into The Verge’s content management system. Once I realized what the problem was, it was easily fixed: the extension lets you disable the protection for specific sites by just toggling it off. After that, the feature was automatically toggled off every time I visited that site.

The browser extension also rates the site you’re on.

The browser extension also rates the site you’re on.

Mobile App

You can use the email protection feature in DuckDuckGo’s mobile app as well. If you’ve already registered as a beta user, then once you’ve installed the iOS or Android app:

  • In the app, use the three dots in the upper corner to get to Settings.
  • Scroll down to find “Email Protection” (it will be marked as beta) and tap on it.
  • You will be asked if you want to join the waitlist, if you have an invite code, or if you already have a Duck address. If you haven’t registered yet, tape on “I have an Invite Code” and you will be led through the registration process. If you’ve already registered, tap on “I already have a Duck Address” and you will be sent a passphrase through the “real” email address that you registered with. Once you’ve entered that passphrase, you’ll be able to use your @duck.com addresses on your mobile device as well.

Find “Email Protection” in the mobile app’s settings.

Find “Email Protection” in the mobile app’s settings.

You can register for email protection or use your preregistered Duck address.

You can register for email protection or use your pre-registered Duck address.

So should you try DuckDuckGo’s email protection if you can get in on the beta? Why not? At the very least, trackers are a pain in the neck; sign up for one service, and suddenly, you’re getting emails from a dozen or more. Having an alternate email address to prevent at least some of the nuisance spam — not to mention preventing other data about you from possibly getting distributed — can’t be a bad thing.


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