Concerned about Google and others snooping on your online activity? Then you might want to install a free browser add-in called Do Not Track Plus that can tell Google (and other marketers) to mind their own business.
The app, made by Abine, of Boston, is designed to block advertisers, social networks, and marketers from tracking you online via your Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer browsers. More specifically, Abine says its Do Not Track Plus plugs the hole that has allowed Google to circumvent browser privacy protection in both the Internet Explorer and Safari browsers. In short, it blocks Google's attempts to activate +1 and DoubleClick activity in your browser—even when it's built-in protections have been circumvented by Google.
After installing the add-on, which works on Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer, a small icon will appear to the right of the browser's address bar. It will tell you if a website wants to send data from your visit to other companies.
When you click the icon, the software will display what companies the website is trying to share your information with.
As you surf the Web, the applet keeps a running tab of all the times it blocks a third-party site from obtaining information from you without your knowledge.
Add-On Puts Tracking Choices in Consumers' Hands
It does, however, allow you to use Google's +1 on a permission basis. When you click +1 on a page, you'll get a pop-up window asking you to confirm the +1 request.
The add-on, unlike the protections against third-party snooping found in Safari and Internet Explorer, can't be skirted by Google, social networks and marketers. "By doing that, it shuts down the holes that Google was exploiting in Safari and Internet Explorer," Abine Co-founder Rob Shavell told PCWorld.
Although the software prevents unauthorized tracking of web surfers, Abine doesn't think of it as blocking software, according to Shavell. "It's not about blocking Google," he said. "It's about the user being able to control when they're tracked."
"We're not an ad blocker," he contended. "Our product doesn't block ads. It's meant to give consumers the kind of control we think they should have by default."
A Cure for Google Privacy Gaffe
Google was discovered last week to be flanking protections against third-party tracking found in Safari. Google has stated that its gaming of Safari was an unintentional consequence of other actions it took to make its +1 service work better with Apple's software.
However, on Monday, Microsoft revealed that Google was exploiting a flaw in Internet Explorer to do what it is doing with Safari. "Google is employing similar methods to get around the default privacy protections in IE and track IE users with cookies," Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Internet Explorer Dean Hachamovitch wrote in a company blog.
Tech Solution for a Policy Problem?
Google has been roundly criticized by privacy advocates for its Safari shenanigans and a trio of lawmakers have called for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate if Google's actions violate the consent agreement it made with the agency last year.
Problems like the Safari and IE workarounds by Google will continue to persist as long as they're framed as technology problems and not ethical ones, according to Chet Wisniewski, a security advisor at Sophos. "The real issue here is Google's behavior," he told PCWorld. "It's not about whether there's a bug in Safari or not."
"If they're living by a set of ethical guidelines saying this what we will and will not do when you're using Google services," he continued, "then they shouldn't be needing to manipulate technology or flaws or poorly implemented features in products in order to get what they want."