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EFF “Privacy Badger” plugin aimed at forcing websites to stop tracking users


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Web browsers generally allow users to send a "Do Not Track" signal that lets advertisers know the user prefers not to be tracked for the purposes of serving up personalized ads.

But it's largely a futile exercise, because websites and advertising networks are free to ignore the signal. Even Yahoo, which had been honoring Do Not Track requests, decided to stop doing so this week.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation may have a solution. Last night, the group announced "Privacy Badger," an extension for Chrome and Firefox "that analyzes sites to detect and disallow content that tracks you in an objectionable, non-consensual manner."

Privacy Badger doesn't automatically block ads. The group explained:

When you visit websites, your copy of Privacy Badger keeps note of the "third-party" domains that embed images, scripts and advertising in the pages you visit.

If a third-party server appears to be tracking you without permission, by using uniquely identifying cookies to collect a record of the pages you visit across multiple sites, Privacy Badger will automatically disallow content from that third-party tracker. In some cases a third-party domain provides some important aspect of a page's functionality, such as embedded maps, images, or fonts. In those cases, Privacy Badger will allow connections to the third party but will screen out its tracking cookies.

Users who install Privacy Badger can whitelist websites. Additionally, "Advertisers and other third-party domains can unblock themselves in Privacy Badger by making a strong commitment to respect Do Not Track requests," the EFF said.

Privacy Badger works, but it's an "alpha" release so the EFF wants interested users to test it out before attempting to convince larger populations of people to install it. Privacy Badger can be installed on Chrome or Firefox here, and bugs can be reported on GitHub.

The EFF also helps maintain the HTTPS Everywhere extension, which attempts to force websites to encrypt communications with users who have the extension installed.


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The extension adds an icon to the browser which you can click on to display all detected tracking urls and scripts. For each url or script, it offers three states that you can change easily in the interface.

Allow the script to run.

Block cookies set by the script but allow it to run.

Block the script so that it cannot set cookies.

Privacy Badger will block scripts automatically if they appear to track without permission, for instance by using cookies with unique identifiers.

If a script identified this way is used for site functionality, e.g. the display of a map or fonts, then only its cookies will be blocked while the script continues to run.

According to the EFF, some advertisers and third-party domains will not be blocked by the extension if they make a "strong commitment" to respect Do Not Track.

While the extension works automatically, you can make changes to what is allowed to run and what is blocked manually at all times. These changes are remembered , so that the script or domain is still handled this way on consecutive visits and on other domains it is loaded on as well.

The page is automatically reloaded when you make a change to the configuration.

Note that the alpha release of Privacy Badger concentrates solely on third-party tracking. While you may be able to use it to block some first-party tracking attempts as well, for instance if a script is loaded from a subdomain, it is usually not possible to block all tracking on first-party sites using extensions.

Comparison to other blocking extensions

Disconnect 2 for Chrome - The browser extension blocks third-parties from tracking you. It blocks over 2000 third-party sites this way including major social networking scripts, and allows you to whitelist sites or individual scripts.

Do Not Disturb for Chrome - This extension concentrates on annoyances such as data miners and surveys rather than third-party scripts or domains. It is less likely to break a website while running as a consequence.

Ghostery - blocks trackers automatically and gives you control over what is allowed to run and what is not.

NoScript for Firefox - The Firefox extension blocks all third-party connections by default which in turn blocks the majority of ads and all third-party tracking attempts by default.

Closing Words

Privacy Badger does not display all third-party domains that a website connects to on load. Only those that it has identified as trackers are displayed by it so that you can block or allow them in the interface.

While that is a limitation, especially if you are used to work with NoScript which puts you in full control, it is easier to handle and maintain on the other hand.

The developers plan to integrate new features in future versions, including one that prevents browser fingerprinting. Definitely one to keep an eye on.


Edited by anuseems
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