How many times have you heard this line? “They’re watching you…” (A lot, I would imagine.)
Unfortunately, I’ve begun to realize that it’s true (at least with regard to the web). Even when using the Tor network, which was created with privacy in mind, you’re still under surveillance, which is why some people have stopped using it altogether. (Although that hasn’t stopped me, the intrepid writer.)
Nonetheless, when you’re on the clearnet, there are some tools and plugins that can enhance your privacy (if not ensure it 100% of the time).
In a previous post, If We Built This Large Wooden Privacy Badger…, I discussed the plugin Privacy Badger, created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). For the most part, I’ve had a very positive experience with said Badger – he’s not a friend of trackers, trust me:
So, I thought it reasonable to compare some of the other popular privacy tools with Privacy Badger, to see which worked the best.
Do You Believe in Ghostery?
*ba-domp ching!* For those who haven’t heard of Ghostery, it’s a web privacy-themed company; they’re the developers of the Ghostery browser extension. The extension monitors the various web servers that are being called upon from any given webpage, and makes them correspond with a list of data collection tools (a.k.a. trackers).
And yes, I realize it’s already been reviewed on Lifehacker and other sites, but I still wanted to take a stab at it, and not just take everyone else’s word for it.
With Ghostery enabled, each time you visit a webpage, it searches for all the trackers connected to that site, and compiles them into a neat list, which it will display each time you access a new site:
If you then look at the icon displayed on your menu bar, a little number should be showing next to it, indicating how many trackers have been found on that specific site. Click that icon, and a dropdown menu (called the “Findings Panel”) will list the specific names of the trackers. From that menu, you can choose to block or allow any specific tracker:
Granted, as with Privacy Badger and some of the other privacy apps, if you disable all the trackers on certain sites, the sites won’t work properly. This, of course, is why you have the option of enabling or disabling each tracker individually.
If you only want to temporarily pause blocking so that you can use all of a site’s functions, then that’s what the “Pause Blocking” button is for. On the other hand, if you trust a site completely, you can click “Whitelist Site.”
Like this blog, right? You trust me, don’t you??
All in all, I’ve found Ghostery to be quite useful, but I choose to opt out of their GhostrankTM feature, which “collects anonymous data about the trackers you’ve encountered and the sites on which they were placed.” In theory, this feature is used to help businesses market themselves more transparently (and in a less intrusive way), but it’s also a way for Ghostery to make money – hey, did you think they were doing this for free?
Finally, under its options, Ghostery will show you a list of trackers that it’s blocked, in different categories (e.g. Advertising, Analytics, etc.). You can choose to enable or disable any of these functions in order to optimize your web experience.
Cockblock Plus…I mean…Adblock Plus
Excuse me, little Freudian slip there!! This is what I meant:
Adblock Plus is, in a sense, very similar to Ghostery. Sometimes, however, they block different trackers (or different types of trackers).
Actually, one immediate difference that I noticed between ABP and Ghostery was that Ghostery tells you which specific domains it’s blocking, whereas ABP doesn’t. It merely tells you how many ads its blocked on that page, as well as how many in total.
As a matter of fact, this initially appears to be a disadvantage, because it’s kind of an “all-or-nothing” approach. However, ABP has a different method for blocking specific elements on a page.
If you right-click on certain page elements, a menu like this should appear (this one’s for Chrome) :
Click the option that says “Block element.” Another window should appear, listing the specific page element – you can then add that to your “blacklist” of blocked elements.
All in all, Adblock Plus works similarly to Ghostery, but after playing around with it a little, it seems slightly more geared toward the techies among us (me included)! So really, which one you use (if any) is just a matter of personal preference.
That being said, these are far from the only privacy tools available – perhaps I shall save the rest for a future post.
In the meantime, I’m going to go back to hiding in my paranoia shelter.