Privacy Badger is a new browser extension for Firefox and Chrome by the EFF that can block spying ads and trackers on websites.
Tracking users is essential to online marketing today. Tracking occurs on the Internet in many forms, from third-party cookies that are set by advertising or tracking scripts to social media buttons and sophisticated tracking via Flash cookies, fingerprinting and other means.
Good news is that it is relatively easy to block many of the different tracking methods in web browsers. This is especially true for third-party tracking methods.
Think of first-party as the company or individual running the domain you are on, e.g. ghacks.net, and third-parties as everything that is loaded from other web servers and sites when you visit the site.
The Privacy Badger extension has been designed to analyze websites that you visit in the browser it is installed in to detect and block contents that track you in"an objectionable, non-consensual manner".
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.
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.