what-is-privacy-badger

I found a great tool to use in web browsers to stop prying eyes from tracking you whilst browsing the internet. Its name is Privacy Badger from Electronic Frontier Foundation. This is a small add-on, an extension, added on to Chrome web browser on Windows platform, Opera on Windows or Firefox.

I am going to provide you with everything you need to know about the software including:

  • What the extension does
  • How to download and install it
  • How the extension differs from similar ones
  • How it works
  • What the menu sliders mean
  • How the extension blocks ads from tracking
  • A word about cookies
  • How the software works with social media widgets

What does Privacy Badger Do and, Why Do I Need It?

If you are just like me, you value your privacy when surfing the internet. I do not appreciate my movements tracked online and my details being available to everyone. I also dislike ads popping up on web pages I am visiting.

I understand webmasters have to make money by advertising, but some sites go to extreme lengths. Some websites have vast amounts of tracking ads popping up and web pages opening under the one I am browsing. This is one thing I detest.

While the ads are annoying enough, those shown relate to what you have been searching for online. This means someone tracked the searches. Make a search for smart phones and I guarantee before long you will be seeing ads for smart phones.  Privacy Badger is a tool to stop services from tracking you.

There are various extensions for web browsers out there to stop tracking but this one caught my attention.

The extension simply stops advertisers along with third-party trackers tracking what I do online by sending a “Do Not Track” request. They can no longer see what the web pages I am browsing, which is what i wanted. The extension blocks advertisers loading content into the web browser. As far as advertisers are concerned, I simply did not exist online.

Features of the Software

Privacy Badger has the following features built-in:

  • Blocked cookies are kept track of even if they are removed from the browser
  • Only tracking from third-party websites is blocked, not first party
  • The only cookies disallowed are those that have tracking IDs
  • The software can also work in Incognito or Private mode but takes longer to learn and pick up tracking
  • Domains can be whitelisted
  • Tracking domains may be removed or added by the user
  • Export and import settings

How to Install the Extension

Installing the latest version of the software is straightforward. It is as simple as heading to the website and clicking on the Install button.

The extension downloads and installs and I found the shortcut to it located at the top right of Firefox in the bar at the top. A web page also opens up asking if you want to take a tour of the features of the software.

I chose to open the tour of the features and it told me that the software learns as I browse. Apparently, the more I browse the better protection. I found that at first, the extension did not seem to block anything. However, I waited and kept browsing and sure enough, it discovered trackers as I browsed.

The tour of the software made me realize that it works after the same tracker appears on three different websites. It also stressed that it is not just another ad-blocker.

On installing the extension, there is an icon at the top right. I clicked on this and then on the “Gear” icon. This took me to the options settings. I left these at the default settings. The tabs are:

  • General settings
  • Disabled sites
  • Tracking domains
  • Manage data

How does Privacy Badger Differ From similar Adblocking Software?

When I installed the extension, it did not seem to make any difference when I was browsing. If you want to find out what the software is doing in the background, I found I had to click on the badge icon in the address bar.

There are many types of software out there related to stopping ads, such as Adblock Plus but Badger is different. This intrigued me at first, why is the software so different?

In other software, the user has to undertake custom configuration in order to block any non-consensual trackers. EEF developed software that did not require this and which came with rigorous algorithmic along with policies to detect and then prevent non-consensual tracking. With Badger, the user has maximal control over who tracks them online.

How Does the Software Work?

I wanted to know the ins and outs of Privacy Badger to understand how the software works to protect me online from trackers. You might also be interested in knowing, or you might simply just want to install it and then start to browse. Either way is fine.

For those of you who are as curious about how the software works as I was, I will explain below.

The easiest way to explain how the software works is that web pages viewed consist of numerous sources. If visiting a news website the page might have content, ads from a company, comments and such. The software is in a position to check all of the content and track it.

When continuing to browse the internet if a source is tracking what I am doing, the software becomes involved. It tells the browser to stop loading content from the source. If the content stops loading, the source is unable to track.

If I were explaining this technically, the software takes notice of “third-party” domains. These generally embed scripts, images and advertising into web pages visited. The software is able to seek out techniques used for tracking. These include identifying cookies, super cookies and “canvas printing”.

If the software finds just one third-party host tracking what you are doing on three different websites, it will stop content.

What Do the Sliders in the Badge Icon Mean?

Now I want to go on to talk about the sliders that show up when clicking on the badge icon and what they mean.

I am talking about the icon that sits on the browser bar on the right-hand corner of Firefox. The version I installed. It should be identical for other web browsers.

The drop-down box listed all the trackers that had followed me when I was browsing the internet. Click on the icon and it shows different colors with distinct meanings. These are:

  • Green – If a website is listed as green in the drop-down box of the icon it means that site has not been tracked over multiple sites;
  • Yellow – if it is yellow it means a third party domain is tracking. Yellow also indicates the website relies on cookies in order for it to work;
  • Red – this is a warning color and it means that content from the third party tracker is disallowed completely.

I found that Privacy Badger nominates colors to websites. Websites that you visit at first are green, but this may change over time. The user can change the sliders anytime.

How the Software Blocks Ads from Tracking

Privacy Badger is far more than an ad blocker. There is nothing written into the code of the software to block ads specifically. Instead, what the software does is focus on disallowing scripts from third parties, along with images, that are tracking the user.

This applies to images or scripts tracking even though you requested them not to through a “Do Not Track” header. All of these third-party trackers are ads. In short, whenever I see an ad on a webpage that ad sees me and tracks me. Badger puts a stop to that.

I did keep seeing ads, not all of them were blocked. However, this stems from the fact that the software is not an ad-blocker but a privacy tool. So do not be surprised if ads still crop up.

The actual aim of the software primarily is to prevent invasion of privacy of those browsing the internet. The software will work alongside an existing ad blocker for further security.

A Word about Cookies

The software is designed cleverly to work with cookies and tell the good from the bad ones.

  • Privacy Badger understands that not all cookies are tracking cookies. The software works in the background to analyze each site’s cookies;
  • Any cookies with tracking IDs are not allowed by the software, cookies that perform functions are allowed;
  • The software is in a position to keep an eye on cookies considered tracking cookies even when I deleted cookies by clearing the cookies in the browser settings.

How the Software Works with Social Media Widgets

Social media plays a huge role today in the lives of people; I know that it does in mine. I wondered how the software would work with social media widgets and whether it would affect my use of them.

Widgets used by social media, including Facebook Like buttons and Twitter tweets do track what users read online.

They can track the browsing habits of people even if they are not clicked on.

Privacy Badger comes with a feature that replaces the widgets still allowing people to interact with social media. The beauty of this is that users cannot be tracked unless clicking on them. The software will replace the widgets of social media platforms if it thinks they are tracking, including:

  • Facebook
  • Google
  • AddThis
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Stumbleupon

Any widgets that the software has replaced are highlighted with a badge from the software at the side of it. When I wished to interact with Facebook when browsing, I simply clicked on the replacement button.

Conclusion

I have found the extension to be a valuable tool in regard to avoiding my privacy being breached as I browse the web. I found the more I browsed the more the software learned what sites were tracking me and put an end to it.

Privacy Badger is free to download and it did put my mind at ease when I started to see the red warnings appear on the drop-down menu showing tracking would have occurred if I had not installed the software.

Written by Mark Bynum

Mark Bynum is tech writer and WordPress enthusiast from Atlanta. He loves playing with latest tech gadgets and testing various products and services. When he is AFK, you can find him hiking somewhere in the woods.

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