Blocking Trackers and Ads

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

This is a public-service announcement. There are several ways of blocking trackers and ads on desktop browsers. I’ve been using Ghostery for years, but am a little leery of the company behind it. For a while now, my browser of choice, Opera[1], has included ad-blocking natively. I’d also heard about a tool from the EFF named Privacy Badger that is supposed to do what Ghostery does.

 I wanted to figure out which software I actually need to use in order to turn off tracking. To that end, the EFF provides a tool called Panopticlick that you can use to test how well your browser blocks trackers and respects the “Do-Not-Track” flag.

  • Opera’s ad-blocker is fast and native, but blocks only “most” ads. You don’t see many ads when browsing with only that, but it doesn’t block any trackers. Opera has a “Do-Not-Track” flag that you can enable. Honest sites will honor it. Still mostly red in Panopticlick.
  • EFF’s own Privacy Badger passes with flying colors. My browser still has a unique fingerprint, but I’m not sure if there’s a way of blocking that. All green in Panopticlick.
  • Ghostery does not block as much as Privacy Badger. Mostly green, but one yellow/red check in Panopticlick.

Long story short: I uninstalled Ghostery and installed Privacy Badger instead.

Browser Setup

 As an addendum, these are the measures I take for private browsing:

  1. I use Opera because it has the features I use below.
  2. Enable the “Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request with your browsing traffic” checkbox in preferences
  3. Enable the “Block ads and surf the web up to three times faster” checkbox in preferences. I use the default settings and whitelists, but you may want to be more aggressive. Remember that a lot of web sites have advertising as their only income source. If they can’t make money, they might stop entertaining you.
  4. Install the “Privacy Badger” extension with default settings.
  5. Change your default search engine to “DuckDuckGo” to avoid Google tracking.
  6. Turn on the VPN in Opera when you want to spoof your location/IP address. This is fast and easy and doesn’t interrupt or slow down normal browsing. It does involve proxying your traffic over another node (through the VPN tunnel), so your mileage may vary with video streams. I don’t use this very much, but it’s handy for when I need it.

[1] I am aware that a Chinese company bought Opera a few years back. I do not see how that is significantly worse than an American company. Chinese companies are (possibly) in cahoots with the Chinese surveillance apparatus; American companies are (possibly) in cahoots with the American surveillance apparatus. The Chinese version has been primarily aimed at its own citizens; the American one is aimed at everyone. I suppose now that Firefox actually has a browser worthy of the name, I could switch to that, but I think I’ll wait a bit. Opera’s perks and features (book are still too seductive for me to switch away.