EFF Launches Privacy Badger To Block Online Tracking

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has launched a beta version of ‘Privacy Badger’. It’s a Firefox and Chrome plugin that detects and blocks advertisements and embedded content that tracks user activity without their permission.

While surfing the Internet today, it is normal to assume that most websites contain some code that is intended to track, monitor and, in some cases, even spy on users.

“Our aim is not to block ads, but to prevent non-consensual invasions of people’s privacy because we believe they are inherently objectionable,” EFF says.

EFF introduced Privacy Badger to battle intrusive practices in the Internet advertising industry. Visiting websites with embedded scripts, advertising and images can be a gateway to third-party tracking which can then track a page you visit and merge that with information of what you did before and afterward.

If Privacy Badger detects a tracker following your surfing activity without your consent, it will either screen out the tracking cookies or block all the content from that tracking session. This extension drives the fight against the decision that many companies have taken to neglect Do Not Track requests: a universal opt-out that can be enabled in a web browser to stop web tracking.

Third-party domains and advertisers that are blocked in the extension can only unlock themselves by making a formal commitment to honor the Do Not Track quests of their users.

“Users who install Privacy Badger aren’t just getting more privacy and a better browsing experience for themselves—they are providing incentives for improved privacy practices and respect for Do Not Track choices across the Internet,” said EFF Technology Projects Director Peter Eckersely. “Using Privacy Badger helps to make the Web as a whole better for everyone.”

Privacy Badger was previously an alpha release that was downloaded by more than 150,000 internet users. There are several other tools with similar goals, such as the Aviator browser, Disconnect plugin, Adblock Plus, Ghostery, and more – but all of them rely on custom configuration to block most trackers, while Privacy Badger doesn’t.

EFF provides something that functions automatically without custom configuration, and hope that by developing advanced policy and algorithmic methods for keeping non-consensual tracking at bay, they’ll be able to produce a code base that can be utilized by other extensions too, as well as major web browsers, to give users more control over their online activity.

Using the tool

Once installed, Privacy Badger will track of all webpages in your browsing session. Some webpages such as your email inbox will be marked as having zero trackers while others such as social networking sites will display a slider that lets you turn off the tracker.

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There, the slider has three colors; green, yellow and red. Green indicates there is a third party domain, but it didn’t track you across multiple sites. The green state is the first color you see by default after installing Privacy Badger, but domains are quickly classified as suspicious as the user continues to surf.

Yellow indicates a third party domain is trying to keep track of your activity, but it is on the cookie-blocking whitelist of third party domains, which after analysis, seem to be necessary for proper functionality of the web page. In this case, the extension will load content, but will try to keep out supercookies and third party cookies.

Red indicates a third party tracker has been disallowed completely. Once you switch the slider to the red on a particular webpage, the extension will tell Chrome or FireFox to stop loading any more content from that source. So by stopping loading content from the source, the source would fail in keeping track of the user.

The extension not only scrutinizes the behavior of the third party over time and chooses what it thinks is the ideal setting for the domain, but also lets users take manual action if desired.

Noticeably, the extension is a privacy tool, not an advertisement blocker. Nothing inside its code is written to prevent advertisements. Instead, it gears its focus towards disallowing or preventing any invisible or visible third party images and scripts that appear to track users. As most third party trackers are advertisements, they see users browsing and start tracking their activity, but Privacy Badger stops these trackers when it matters the most.

There’s no black list of websites that should be blocked. Domains are only screened or blocked if the Privacy Badger extension actually finds the domain is collecting unique tracking identifiers.

Privacy Badger can be downloaded from EFF’s website.