You probably already know this, but lots of people are tracking your activity online. Advertisers, social networks, content providers, the NSA. It’s actually kind of creepy how many people know what you are doing.
Fortunately, you can block a lot of it. There are a few apps that help you keep third-party tracking to a minimum, if not eliminate it entirely. But first, you can always try to ask politely.
Do Not Track
Before we get to the apps, you will want to turn on Do Not Track in your browser. This is a request that advertisers are free to ignore if they are jerks, but it does take care of some tracking.
- In Chrome, go to Settings, click on “show advanced settings,” and scroll down to Privacy where you can check the box next to “Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request.” (You may need to do this separately in Chrome on your phone and tablet.)
- Do Not Track is enabled in Firefox by default, but the setting is located in Tools > Options… > Privacy.
- Do Not Track is enabled in Internet Explorer by default, but the setting is located in Settings > Safety > Tracking Protection.
- In Safari, go to Preferences > Privacy, and check the box next to “Ask websites not to track me.”
Just remember that enabling Do Not Track is not enough on its own. Some third-party trackers just ignore it. To get them to back off, you’ll need some extra help.
Today the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit defender of civil liberties online, announced its Privacy Badger browser plugin. Privacy Badger keeps an eye out for third-party content (i.e., not from the website you are looking at) that is tracking you without your permission. Some common perpetrators include ad networks, social networks, embedded video, etc.
Sometimes that third-party content is important to the page, like fonts or embedded videos. In that case, Privacy Badger will attempt to let the content through but block the tracking scripts. But sometimes this means you just won’t see the content (ads, generally).
EFF’s goal is to convince companies to obey Do Not Track, so it “rewards” them by only blocking third-party trackers if they do not obey Do Not Track requests. In other words, if you have not enabled Do Not Track, Privacy Badger will let third parties track you.
Privacy Badger is available for the Chrome and Firefox browsers. To install it, just visit the website and click the big INSTALL button.
Fair warning: Privacy Badger is in alpha, which means it still has some bugs to work out.
Disconnect is a B corporation that happens to have been co-founded by Casey Oppenheim one of my law-school classmates. Its open-source browser plugin is available for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera. There is also a Disconnect search plugin so you can keep your searches to yourself, and an app for kids for iOS that stops third-party information from leaving your iOS device.
Additionally, Disconnect gives you a ton of information about third-party trackers. You can see who is tracking you, find out how much bandwidth they take up, and individually whitelist trackers when you want to.
Disconnect is a much more robust tool than Privacy Badger, since it has been around longer. In fact, I have been using it on and off for years. Also, it doesn’t have anything to do with Do Not Track (which few people probably know about). It blocks all third-party trackers unless you specifically opt in.
After I published this post, David Zaffran recommended another app, Ghostery. Like Disconnect, it is available as a browser plugin for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera, but not Internet Explorer. There are also apps for iOS and the Android version of Firefox.
Featured image: “curious businessman with glass leaning against the wall ” from Shutterstock.