When you open an email, there’s no obvious indication the sender will know. It’s not like Facebook Messenger, which sends an overt read receipt any time you open a message. However, the sender can include a small, pixel-sized image in the email, which identifies when we open it. In turn, it tells the sender (narc). It’s known as a pixel tracker, and it’s one example of how email is not a privacy-friendly service.
Tech companies have begun to fight back, however. Last year, Apple implemented “Hide My Email” for its suite of products, which generates a unique “burner” address each time you need to share your email with a company. That burner address forwards your messages to your real address, so you never need to share it with shady services.
DuckDuckGo started testing a similar feature in July of last year, opening the beta to a limited pool of users. If you wanted to give it a try, though, you had to be placed on a waitlist. Now, the feature is available for anyone to try.
DuckDuckGo hides your email and protects your privacy
DuckDuckGo offers you two types of email addresses. The first is a personal Duck Address. You pick the name, and it never changes (for example, firstname.lastname@example.org). The second is a private, uniquely generated Duck Address. Any time you need to share your email with a service, DuckDuckGo will generate a new address for you to use. That way, you don’t need to share your email with each and every company looking to abuse your personal data. Instead, they only get the burner account.
Both the personal and private Duck Addresses forward their emails to your primary address (your Gmail, for example). That lets you hand away your Duck Addresses to any service that wants it, without needing to give away your personal email address.
That’s not the best part, though. Before forwarding an email from your personal or private Duck Address to your primary address, DuckDuckGo scrubs it of any trackers. That means you can open your forwarded emails in peace, as the sender has no way to know when you read the message. It also fights against link tracking, which will prevent companies from following your activity when you click on a link in the email.
DuckDuckGo claims this feature is extremely respectful of user privacy, and that they never save your emails. The only personal data the company asks from you is your primary email address (otherwise, it wouldn’t be able to forward you emails), but you don’t need to share access to your inbox, your contacts, or any data like that.
How to set up a burner DuckDuckGo email address
To access the feature, you’ll either need the iOS or Android app, or install the browser extension in Chrome, Firefox, Brave, or Edge. The feature is supported in DuckDuckGo’s Mac app, but it’s still in beta, and there’s still a waitlist.
On iOS or Android, open the app, tap the settings gear in the top right, then scroll down and choose “Email Protection.” On desktop, after installing the browser extension, go to the Email Protection page (linked here) to get started. Click through the initiation screens, then choose an @duck.com address for yourself.
Next, choose the primary address you’d like DuckDuckGo to forward your tracker-free messages to. Once you’re all set, click “This is correct,” and you’ll lock in your official DuckDuckGo email.
Any time you need to generate a new burner address, go to Email Protection settings on mobile. On desktop, select the DuckDuckGo extension in your browser, then choose “Create a new Duck Address.” DuckDuckGo will add the newly-generated address to your clipboard, so you can easily paste it where needed. That said, DuckDuckGo will also be able to identify when you’ve clicked on an email address field, and will offer you a Duck Address to use automatically.
When you receive a forwarded message in your primary inbox, DuckDuckGo includes a report of the trackers it blocked in the original email, a reminder of why such a feature is so useful in the first place.