Online tracking has been a thorny problem for years, and as Web security companies, browser vendors and users have become more aware of the problem and smarter about how to defend themselves, ad companies and trackers have responded in kind. The advent of social networks has made it far easier for tracking companies to monitor user behavior across the Web, and in an effort to counter some of that effect, the EFF has released a beta version of its Privacy Badger browser extension, which blocks a large chunk of that tracking. Privacy Badger is one of a new generation of tools designed to help users block much of the silent, pervasive tracking that’s done on the Web today, a lot of which is accomplished through social media channels. Researchers have found that the social media icons that appear on virtually all Web pages today that encourage users to like a given piece of content or tweet it to their followers can be used to track users, even without clicking on the button.
“Widgets that say ‘Like this page on Facebook’ or ‘Tweet this’ often allow those companies to see what webpages you are visiting, even if you never click the widget’s button,” said EFF Technology Projects Director Peter Eckersley. “The Privacy Badger alpha would detect that, and block those widgets outright. But now Privacy Badger’s beta version has gotten smarter: it can block the tracking while still giving you the option to see and click on those buttons if you so choose.”
The new release of Privacy Badger, which had been in alpha form for a couple of months, includes a function that can replace the social media buttons on a given site and allow users to click on them and like or tweet a piece of content while still preventing tracking. Much of the tracking that’s done online now is done silently. Users often can be tracked by hitting a site with specific kinds of elements embedded. Many users are unaware of the extent of this kind of tracking or the way that it works, and tools such as Privacy Badger take the work of defeating it out of their hands.
“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 Eckersely. “Using Privacy Badger helps to make the Web as a whole better for everyone.”
There are a number of other tools that have similar aims, including the Disconnect plugin and the Aviator browser from WhiteHat Security. Aviator includes Disconnect, which blocks tracking sites, and also has a number of other privacy and security features.
Privacy Badger works with Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.