DuckDuckGo, the privacy-focused search engine with the weird name, already offers web browsers for iOS and Android and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. But on Tuesday, the company announced that it is getting into desktop browsers, too. DuckDuckGo for Mac is available starting today as an invite-only beta that “is designed to be used as an everyday browser that truly protects your privacy.”
Among other features, DuckDuckGo says that its browser will automatically manage cookie consent pop-ups “on many sites,” that it will use encrypted HTTPS connections whenever they’re available, and that the browser will block trackers and allow you to clear stored website data on a site-by-site basis. The browser also includes its own password manager that can import data “from other browsers and browser extensions like 1Password or LastPass.” Private syncing of passwords and bookmarks between browsers is a planned feature but isn’t available in this initial version.
Most alternative browsers are based on Google’s Chromium browser and Blink browsing engine so they can benefit from Chrome’s majority position in the browser market. Most webpages are tested with Chrome in mind, and Chrome has a large and well-supported library of browser extensions that third-party browsers can usually tap into without making any changes. The DuckDuckGo browser instead uses Apple’s WebKit rendering engine via the WKWebView API.
Since it’s using the Mac’s built-in browser engine instead of forking its own, the DuckDuckGo browser engine will get feature and security updates when you update macOS. This does probably save work for the DuckDuckGo team, which won’t need to do its own testing or updating every time there’s a change to WebKit. But it does mean that the DuckDuckGo browser running on different versions of macOS could have feature or security differences that DuckDuckGo can’t do anything about beyond urging people to update their Macs.
Using WKWebView also means that the DuckDuckGo browser can’t use browser extensions made for Safari. The announcement post covers for this by claiming—probably correctly—that the most popular browser extensions are content blockers and password managers and that those features are already built into the browser. But browsers from Microsoft Edge to Vivaldi offer both privacy-focused features and full compatibility with the wide world of Chrome extensions, so it’s a difficult limitation to ignore.
DuckDuckGo says that 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 the Mac, the Windows version will use Microsoft’s Edge WebView2 as its browsing engine, meaning 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.