DuckDuckGo, the oddly-named privacy-focused search engine, already offers web browsers for iOS and Android and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. But on Tuesday, the company announced it was launching in desktop browsers as well. DuckDuckGo for Mac is available starting today as an invite-only beta “designed to be used as an everyday browser that really protects your privacy.”
Among other features, DuckDuckGo says its browser will automatically handle cookie consent pop-ups “on many sites”, it will use encrypted HTTPS connections whenever available, and the browser will block trackers and you. will clear the stored website data site by site. The browser also includes its own password manager which can import data “from other browsers and browser extensions like 1Password or LastPass”. Private synchronization of passwords and bookmarks between browsers is a planned feature but is not available in this initial release.
Most alternative browsers are based on Google’s Chromium browser and Blink browser engine so they can benefit from Chrome’s majority position in the browser market. Most web pages are tested with Chrome in mind, and Chrome has an extensive library of well-supported browser extensions that third-party browsers can usually exploit without making changes. The DuckDuckGo browser instead uses Apple’s WebKit rendering engine via the WKWebView API.
Because it uses the Mac’s built-in browser engine instead of building its own, the DuckDuckGo browser engine will receive feature and security updates when you update macOS. This probably saves work for the DuckDuckGo team, who won’t need to do their own testing or updates every time there’s a change in WebKit. But that means the DuckDuckGo browser running on different versions of macOS might have differences in functionality or security that DuckDuckGo can’t do anything beyond tricking people into updating their Macs.
Using WKWebView also means that the DuckDuckGo browser cannot use browser extensions designed for Safari. The announcement post covers this by claiming – probably correctly – that the most popular browser extensions are content blockers and password managers and that these features are already built into the browser. But browsers from Microsoft Edge to Vivaldi offer both privacy-focused features and Full compatibility with the vast world of Chrome extensions, so it’s a limitation that’s hard to ignore.
DuckDuckGo says a Windows version of its browser is “coming soon”. Assuming the company uses the same approach to its browser engine on Windows as it does on Mac, the Windows version will use Microsoft’s Edge WebView2 as its browser engine, which means that the Mac and Windows versions of the DuckDuckGo browser will share a name and some features but will be totally different under the hood.