Image courtesy of The Gilt War: The Return of the Rabbit
Forgive me – it was just too tempting to throw in a Monty Python reference there. Actually, the real “badger” I had in mind was this one:
Privacy Badger is a browser add-on developed by our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that more or less prevents advertisers and other third parties from tracking where you go and everything you do on the web (unless you give them express permission to do so).
Although there are many other privacy apps like it (such as Disconnect, Adblock Plus, and Ghostery), according to EFF’s website, they wanted to develop an app “which could function well without any settings, knowledge, or configuration by the user,” and which was also “produced by an organization which is unambiguously working for its users rather than for advertisers.” As a matter of fact, EFF admits on their site that “in fact Privacy Badger is based on the ABP [Adblock Plus] code!”
Now, this may seem like a hefty statement, but to be honest, in my experience thus far, Privacy Badger really seems to deliver! (I’ll cover Disconnect, Adblock Plus, and Ghostery in a future post, however.)
OF NOTE: You do have to grant PB some permissions in order for it to work. Specifically, this is what I’m referring to:
So, if you’re a little paranoid, that might be worrisome…but I still think the benefits outweigh the risks. (Sure, that’s what they all say…)
That being said, the Badger works by detecting third-party domains that embed images, scripts, and ads on various pages that you visit. If one of these domains seems to be tracking you across different domains (via techniques like local storage super cookies or canvas fingerprinting), Privacy Badger picks up on this, and will automatically deny content from the third-party tracker.
The options menu below shows a few examples of different types of trackers that were stalking me, personally…it’s a little creepy, you have to admit.
The trackers marked in red are blocked domains, whereas the yellow ones merely blocked cookies. (I hate to say it, but that really makes we want cookies right now…)
Ahem…green ones, by extension, are “allowed,” based on the fact that those domains don’t appear (to the extension) to be tracking you. Privacy Badger picks what it “believes” is the right setting for each domain, but it is adjustable if you’re losing site functionality due to the tracker blocking.
One of the major differences between Privacy Badger and other ad blockers, according to Gigaom: Not all ad blockers are the same, is that the Badger’s blacklist is generated via “heuristic blocking.” In other words, it learns over time (based on what domains it’s told to block).
There are exceptions, of course. In some cases, a site will barely work with some of its trackers blocked, so as stated, you can allow certain trackers, or also whitelist certain domains (if you know whom to trust, that is…).
Privacy Badger also attempts to prevent canvas based browser fingerprinting, and will block third party domains that use it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation states that they’re in the process of developing ways to circumvent other forms of fingerprinting.
I must say, though – for the most part it seems to work extremely well. As mentioned before, it’s fairly easy to whitelist particular domains if you trust them enough to disable Privacy Badger. Here’s what the whitelist looks like:
You can either manually add domain names to this list, or do so by clicking the “Disable Privacy Badger for This Site” button. It’s all pretty simple, for the most part!
So yeah – all in all, I’ve found it to be an extremely helpful tool. I’m sure that there are some types of fingerprinting that it isn’t able to prevent yet, but perhaps in later versions we’ll have even more protection!
Stay on the good side of the EFF, and who knows what else they might develop…