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  1. #1
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    Add-ons that help browsers block Web trackers




    TOP STORY


    Add-ons that help browsers block Web trackers


    By Patrick Marshall
    Browsers provide a fairly good first line of defense against Web tracking, but to protect against beacons, JavaScript trackers, and widgets, you need more.
    Third-party browser add-ons and applications can provide better defenses against websites that want to follow your online activities.

    The full text of this column is posted at windowssecrets.com/top-story/add-ons-that-help-browsers-block-web-trackers (opens in a new window/tab).

    Columnists typically cannot reply to comments here, but do incorporate the best tips into future columns.

  2. #2
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    The obvious question: can or should i use all three? Is that overkill or paranoia? Do they cause problems all working at once?

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    Lounge VIP bobprimak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jkaess View Post
    The obvious question: can or should i use all three? Is that overkill or paranoia? Do they cause problems all working at once?
    Part of the answer depends on which browser you are using. Another part depends on how well your hardware handles the extra loads caused by sending extra data to extra servers during a web page load. Delays can be considerable from just using one, and some pages don't load at all.

    The good news is, you can load up all the suggestions (as well as NoScript for Firefox) and test for yourself. If there are problems, you can suspend or remove one or more of the add-ons. Being add-ons, these are not difficult to install or uninstall from any browser.

    Also be aware that the more blocking you decide to do, the fewer web sites, especially secure logins, will still function. Hence the suspend options.

    Also be aware that many security programs are trying to scan web pages and search links, which may further slow browsing when using anti-tracking add-ons. this is noticeable when using Avast, for example, especially in Windows 8 with Chrome. At least, this has been my experience.

    Paranoid? No -- it's not paranoia if they really ARE out to get you!

    And seriously, none of these add-ons or browser settings will hide you from the NSA.
    -- Bob Primak --

  4. #4
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    Paranoia comes to mind. Showing me adds based on my interest in certain products, has advantages for me. It allows me to quickly compare pricing and services by simply clicking on the adds of companies who want my business. No need to hunt for suppliers of the product I am interested in. Amazon is the innovator of this and a master at it.
    I just was in the market for a specific high end PC monitor. The moment I researched it, pop-ups for this monitor or similars, appeared on websites I visited. Now I had more resources to check pricing than I normally would have checked out. End results, I saved about 40% on the purchase by buying from a supplier I never heard of before.
    Now, if these pop-ups would be as noisy as the endless commercials on TV, this would be a different story.

  5. #5
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    Disconnect does not seem to be available in the Mozilla (Firefox) "store."

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    I agree with Jadaossi and would like to remind readers that the Internet is a business. The content that we see when we do a Google search is usually supported by advertising, like it or not. That's the reason why the Internet is free.

    The concept of being tracked is paranoia in almost every case. Marketers are not tracking YOU. They have no idea who you are in most cases. They record pages and products visited by your browser. If I visit an electronics super-store to view their HDTVs, I have no issues at all when banner ads on other web sites, including Youtube, begin to show ads about TVs. That ad space is going to be filled with ads about something. Why not products that I like? To take it a little further, suppose I actually place a TV in the shopping cart and then close the window after looking at the shipping charges. Since most sites record my navigation through the sales-conversion process, their databases now know not only the product, but also that I hate paying for shipping. I would expect that in the next few hours, I would begin to see ads offering free shipping when I click-through.

    Is this marketing tracking something to block and avoid, or is it a potential tool to take advantage of when you understand how it works? I have no problem working and surfing within the system. That being said, I do have an ad blocker installed in my browser and I keep it turned off most of the time. When I encounter a site that employs advertising overkill through pop-ups, pop-unders, on-exit banners and loud multimedia panels, I turn the blocker on with one click. In most cases, I would not return to that site anyway.

    To summarize, I see no advantage to try to cloak my presence when visiting legitimate websites that sell products and services, or the smaller web sites that are supported by banner ads tied into the display networks of the suppliers. And you what? Sometimes I may even click on one of those ads, so the webmaster can make 50 cents.

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    Super Moderator satrow's Avatar
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    I use a combination of hpHosts (their inclusion policy: http://hosts-file.net/?s=policy) which works system-wide (I have it installed and updated via HostsMan: http://www.abelhadigital.com/hostsman) and DoNotTrackMe in my browsers, with which I enable tracking/ads from those servers I trust or rely upon.

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    3 Star Lounger
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    I would suggest installing the blocker that seems most suitable for you/ the browser you use. You don't want to bog your browser with multiple plugins doing the same thing. Complimentary plugins, on the other hand, can be useful.

    On that note, I'd be curious to hear comments from those using NoScript and Disconnect. It would seem that combination would be ideal - one to block third parties, the other the uninvited scripts. Ghostery on the other hand would have an overlapping function and be less effective in combination with NoScript, it would seem.

    I've also been using AdBlock. Does Disconnect have a similar effect if it's blocking 3rd connections? Does that make AdBlock redundant?

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    I am most grateful for this article. Funny, there are many times I come to this forum after just doing some "Widows shopping" at Amazon eg., and the very same things I was just looking at are displayed right here! I'd be thrilled if I could even just block that cursed DoubleClick.

  10. #10
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    Hi Jadaossi
    I quite enjoy some of Amazon's features as well and have discovered some great books from their suggestions. I can also agree that targeted advertising can be useful. But when they take that out of the box of their store, the issues become trickier. Do you want a store rep to follow you around to other stores and keep track there too?

    Some businesses are being indiscriminate with what they collect and cross-selling it extensively. Perhaps you visit a medical site to research a friends illness. Or a neighbours kid uses one of your computers to browse porn. Or you mistype a web address and land on the wrong site. Do you really want this history to become a permanent part of your online record and receive ads accordingly?

    There is a massive effort underway to tie your real life activity with your online activity and create a surprisingly large profile about you. Organizations like facebook are drawing from multiple such companies as well as encouraging users to cross-link their online activity - buying, travel, etc. And they're marketing that information to third parties. Like others, they're developing TV-style ads.

    Having a good supplier meet your needs effectively is great. But do you consider it fair for that company to then sell your relationship to someone else without your knowing it? And then follow you around with ads? The issue is with how far they seem to want to take this.

  11. #11
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    Just add the "EasyPrivacy" List to AdBlock Plus - it simply works.

    I tried Disconnect.ME, but no go.

    Fine effort
    and a lot of press PR -
    but IMHO,
    Disconnect.ME is not ready for prime time yet.

    Spent too much time
    trying to make it work with some of the sites I visit,
    ie: the DESMOS.com calculator at:
    https://www.desmos.com/calculator

    Most sites will load fine,
    BUT
    some legit sites will simply freeze my FF browser to a crawl,
    then crash it,. (ie: DESMOS),
    even if the site is "whitelisted".

    You can visit their Forum:
    https://forum.disconnect.me/index.ph...gories/support
    to see how many people are having real problems
    with legit sites and
    with Disconnect installed.
    A real hassle....

    My simple solution:
    ---------------------
    I added this List to my AdBlock+ ext. in Firefox,
    "EasyPrivacy".
    Just go to:
    https://easylist.adblockplus.org/en/
    and click on the second Item link:
    "Add EasyPrivacy to Adblock Plus".

    Done!
    It works flawlessly.
    Hope this helps somebody.

  12. #12
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    Well DavidFB,
    I would say it all depends on how one behaves on the internet. If I a hang out my dirty laundry on all the social networking sites, visit questionable websites, don't
    secure my PC, search for information which would raise eyebrows if it was done at a party, expect to get caught with your pants down sooner or later. What I do in private live and on the internet will not result in a profile, if assembled, I would have to hide. Have you forgotten the good old days of excessive junk mail. That was, and is fueled, by third parties selling your address. Give me a small advertisement on a website any time, which with one glance I ignore without having to fill up my trash can with paper.
    Let the "other store rep follow me around to other stores", it's healthy competition. What harm is this going to inflict on me? He will know I am shopping around and he will have to do more to get my business.
    So, I am profiled and someone wants to target me with sales promotions, do the force me to purchase? I think not.
    If I broadcast my illnesses, secret desires, political and religious views, all over the social networks and then get all kinds of offers (out of the blue, how dare they), you don't deserve any better.

  13. #13
    Lounge VIP bobprimak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidFB View Post
    I would suggest installing the blocker that seems most suitable for you/ the browser you use. You don't want to bog your browser with multiple plugins doing the same thing. Complimentary plugins, on the other hand, can be useful.

    On that note, I'd be curious to hear comments from those using NoScript and Disconnect. It would seem that combination would be ideal - one to block third parties, the other the uninvited scripts. Ghostery on the other hand would have an overlapping function and be less effective in combination with NoScript, it would seem.

    I've also been using AdBlock. Does Disconnect have a similar effect if it's blocking 3rd connections? Does that make AdBlock redundant?
    Regarding overlap and lags or failed page loads, here's what I have experienced, mostly with Firefox under windows XP:

    Ghostery and NoScript do different things. Ghostery tracks the trackers and allows you to block them selectively. The two extensions actually strengthen each other when used in combination.

    NoScript blocks javascript and a few other types of vectors, all of which can facilitate Cross-Site exploits, drive-by malicious attacks, and can slow page loads and transitions because some websites use popup and popover ads to slow page transitions and push ads to visitors. So NoScript is actually doing two jobs at once -- providing an added layer of security and blocking ads which interfere with web browsing speed.

    AdBlockPlus checks cookies against one or more blacklists. This is a problem if the list is on a server which is currently unavailable. Also, since AdBlock Plus exists for the explicit purpose of blocking ads, Firefox users can't access some websites if AdBlock Plus (or NoScript or Ghostery) is installed and detected. Hence the popularity of the Firefox User Agent Switcher Extension. AdBlock Plus is not redundant with NoScript or Ghostery.

    AdBlock Plus is mostly redundant with DoNotTrackMe, which also uses a blacklist, but only one list, supplied by Abine, to block ad cookies. There is much less chance of slowing browsing, as there is only one server to contact to screen incoming cookies against the blacklist.

    NoScript may be thought of as a Whitelist extension, as it blocks everything until you allow something. Ghostery, DoNotTrackMe and AdBlock Plus are blacklist extensions. Once set up for a web page, NoScript seldom needs further fussing, while any blacklist extension will need constant attention as new or changed cookie URLs appear.

    Ghostery and DoNotTrackMe allow users to add any detected ad cookie to their own local blacklist, thus enhancing the effectiveness of these extensions.

    I use DoNotTrackMe, Ghostery and NoScript in Firefox. But not AdBlock Plus, due to the site lock-out issue and the slowing of web browsing it can cause.

    I also use the ComodoDNS service because, hey, it's free and it came with the Comodo Firewall. So why not use it. You get added privacy, if you trust Comodo itself not to spy on you. This service does not totally anonymize your session. For that, you would need a VPN-Proxy service, most of which are not free. In addition to hiding your whereabouts, VPN-Proxy services can be used to trap cookies and drive-by downloads. They are not 100 percent effective at trapping attacks, but they may add yet another layer of safety beyond their added privacy.

    I have a specific use for one other extension in Firefox. This is the one which allows switching not just the User Agent, but the Browser Engine for the current window within a Firefox session. The IE engine is the only one which can run Active-X controls, and MS Updates for Windows XP can be used through this IE window. From MSE-4, I click the Help down-arrow, click on Get Software Updates, and Firefox opens up with a web version of MS Updates, which I have preset to always open with the IE engine. NoScript, Ghostery and DoNotTrackMe still operate as if this were a Firefox session, but the Active-X controls needed to get the updates run just fine in this window, once their scripts and controls are temporarily allowed through the NoScript controls.

    Too many extensions, all trying to connect to their own remote servers, can slow Firefox to a crawl, and can greatly increase loading and shutdown times for Firefox. So I do try to limit my extensions to only those I find useful, and those which do the least contacting of remote servers when launching with Firefox. Still, my lag times when launching or shutting down Firefox are much greater than with Chrome on similar hardware.

    If I really want to get the best privacy, I could also use a proxy and VPN service, but that's beyond the scope of this thread as of now.

    I haven't had any experience with Disconnect on Firefox, but I don't think it duplicates the efforts of AdBlock Plus, Ghostery or NoScript. Again, the purpose of the Disconnect extension is different from the others.
    Last edited by bobprimak; 2013-08-10 at 14:04.
    -- Bob Primak --

  14. #14
    Lounge VIP bobprimak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by movrshakr View Post
    Disconnect does not seem to be available in the Mozilla (Firefox) "store."
    Get it here: https://www.disconnect.me/
    -- Bob Primak --

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    Thanks for the good explanation of these things. Also for reminding me of Comodo DNS; I usually set DNS to Google, and run the namebench utility once or twice a year to look for local changes and what's being blocked or redirected by which servers. (I absolutely refuse to use any DNS from my ISP.) I've also used OpenDNS.

    Right now I'm using AdBlock Plus and Ghostery; after your explanation, I think I'll try the no-script and drop ABP and test it out.

    I like to selectively allow ads on sites I favor, including online newspapers, and selectively allow some of the ad-trackers or analytics stuff so sites can get credit for views. Only a few sites get whitelisted; some temporarily to get them to work and to avoid the tediousness of trying to find the correct thing or things to unblock to get them to work in future.

    Thanks also the Peter Marshall for mentioning Disconnect; I'd not heard of it. I started using Ghostery the week it came out and haven't looked for other similar items since.

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