When it comes to stopping online tracking cookies, Privacy Badger don’t give a flip what the advertisers say. The Electronic Frontier Foundation just unveiled a new tool to help privacy-conscious users enforce their do-not-track wishes on uncooperative websites and third-party advertising companies.
On Wednesday, the online rights groups released an alpha build of Privacy Badger, an add-on for Chrome and Firefox built to destroy third-party cookies and other trackers. Privacy Badger automatically detects and blocks third-party trackers that follow you across the web collecting data about your browsing habits.
But don’t think of Privacy Badger as an ad blocker in the vein of AdBlock Plus. Instead, the EFF add-on is built to only stop third-party tracking that happens across the web. So if an ad pops up without tracking cookies enabled, you’ll see it. Lucky for you, privacy loving user, most ads are loaded with trackers.
Browsing with the badger
Once you’ve got Privacy Badger installed, all you have to do is start browsing the web as you normally would. But if you’re interested in seeing what Privacy Badger is up to just click on the badger icon in your browser’s address bar.
When you first start browsing, all third-party domains that are detected on a website are displayed with a green slider in the Privacy Badger drop-down menu. Green means the add-on has detected third-party domains, but they haven’t done anything objectionable yet.
As you start browsing across multiple sites, however, those green sliders quickly turn yellow and red. Red means Privacy Badger is explicitly blocking trackers. A yellow slider means a third-party tracker is being allowed, because it appears to be necessary for the site to function properly. At the same time, however, Privacy Badger will try to screen out any tracking cookies from yellow-coded third parties. That way you get online privacy without the hassle of handicapped site functionality.
These sliders are completely user configurable too. So if you’d like to allow some trackers and disallow others, just move the slider within Privacy Badger to where you’d like it.
Advertisers may not like the idea of Privacy Badger, but the EFF says any advertisers that commit to respecting do not track requests will get unblocked by the add-on—the idea being that if enough people start using Privacy Badger users can compel advertisers and other online tracking companies to improve online privacy for everyone.
The EFF says Privacy Badger is not yet ready for official release and should only be used by brave alpha testers willing to endure a few bumps and bugs along the way. Anyone who finds a problem can file a bug report for Chrome or Firefox on Github.
For now, Privacy Badger only blocks third-party tracking, not first party. So you can’t use the new add-on to stop Facebook or Google from watching you when you’re actually on Facebook.com or Google.com.
Privacy Badger also can’t stop so-called browser fingerprinting, but this feature is planned for a future release. Browser fingerprinting is another potential form of tracking that monitors you based on your PC’s unique combination of features such as screen size, installed plugins, time zone, operating system, and so on.
Blocking cookies and other forms of online tracking is becoming an issue that users have to take into their own hands. Advertisers have so far been unresponsive to do not track headers, a feature built into some browsers that tells a website to please stop tracking you.
On Wednesday, for example, Yahoo announced it would no longer honor do not track requests citing a lack of industry standards for DNT. Other major sites also ignore DNT requests.
So if asking nicely won’t help, privacy conscious users can now install their very own attack badger (alpha) to stop online tracking. Because as the EFF says, “Nothing can stop the Privacy Badger from eating cookies when it’s hungry!”
Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn't like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he's not covering the news he's working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.