Believe it or not, what prompted this post was a comment on one of my older posts, If We Built This Large Wooden Privacy Badger. The commenter said that “…there are several other new extensions that are better than Privacy Badger. With tracker domains constantly changing and also first party websites directly loading tracker technology, Privacy Badger heuristic approach will not work.”
I have to admit that I considered this as well; how does Privacy Badger “know” which domains are safe and which aren’t?
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who developed it:
…Privacy Badger keeps note of the ‘third party’ domains that embed images, scripts, and advertising in the pages you visit. If a third party server appears to be tracking you without permission, by using uniquely identifying cookies…to collect a record of the pages you visit across multiple sites, Privacy Badger will automatically disallow content from that third party tracker. In some cases a third-party domain provides some important aspect of a page’s functionality…[i]n those cases Privacy Badger will allow connections to the third party but will screen out its tracking cookies and referrers. [Full description available at site]
While this is all true, an algorithm can only be so smart. I suppose you could ask that of any ad-blocking software, but there must be better options out there.
Therefore, I realized it was time to begin exploring again. The more I delve into this topic, the more I become aware of how many privacy tools are in existence (almost too many to count). This does not, of course, mean that they are all effective, or even useful.
Just Because You’re Paranoid…
Previously, in Privacy Tools: Ghostery vs. Adblock Plus, I compared these two apps and their various pros and cons. Also, in said post, I examined the app Privacy Badger, which performs similar functions (though you can use all three together).
So, when I started hunting for alternatives, I visited the site AlternativeTo.net: Privacy Badger Alternatives. Some of the software listed provide quite different functions than the aforementioned apps.
uBlock Origin definitely has a small and easy to use interface (do you like my poorly edited screenshot?):
uBlock Origin blocks ads using filter lists such as EasyList, EasyPrivacy, Peter Lowe’s Ad Server List, and Malware Domain List. You can add additional domains to the list under the “My Filters” list in Settings.
As with all ad blockers, using uBlock Origin will occasionally interfere with the functionality of a site, and will also piss off certain site owners, who may “respond” with messages like this:
And yes, I get that; I know that ads are how most sites make money. I’m willing to turn off ad blockers on sites that I trust. But there are others that just constantly bombard you with pop-ups (and I’m not just talking about porno sites here), to the point where you can barely use the site itself. Those are the sites that apps like uBlock Origin and Adblock Plus were designed for!
Of note – uBlock Origin also features an “element picker” mode (click on the little eyedropper icon), in which you can view the code of specific elements on a page, such as buttons or intrusive ads. If that particular element is something you want to block, hit the “Pick” button. This would likely be considered one of the “advanced” features, but it’s quite useful once you get the hang of it.
What I’ve also noticed is that UO appears to block more ads than some of its competitors (like, uhh…Adblock Plus.). It also has an “advanced” mode, which you can toggle by checking the box below:
The “advanced user” settings pertain to things like behind-the-scene network requests that the average user would likely be unfamiliar with. With the advanced settings enabled, you can custom block requests from specific hostnames (e.g. “wordpress.com”) or specific object types (e.g. 1st-party scripts). If this sort of thing is something that you understand, and would likely benefit from, then I would suggest checking it off. If not, don’t!
RedMorph Browser Controller
Is it just me, or does the name “RedMorph” sound like a supervillain? Well, thankfully it’s not, although the websites that rely on ads might disagree.
RedMorph Browser Controller, unlike some of its contemporaries (uBlock Origin, AdBlock, etc.) combines several different security aspects: privacy tool, ad-blocker, parental control device, and encrypted proxy all into one app.
For example, under its “Block Trackers and Content” feature, you have the option to block cookies, trackers, images, third party trackers, and social trackers. (You can, of course, customize the level of security which you want to use.)
You also have the option of using “Website and Word Filters,” which are generally intended for parents and schools to use for their children (although I suppose you could censor the web for yourself, too):
I confess I’m rather new with this app, but it seems to work very well so far. RedMorph also includes a feature called SpyderWeb, which can give you a comprehensive overview of what domains (and third parties) are tracking you, and how. It’s a little intimidating when you look at the graph:
Now do you see why I’m paranoid? (I joke.) RedMorph does give you a fair amount of options as to which trackers and domain names you can block, which is comforting. It also offers a proxy feature called “Make Me Invisible,” through which you can select proxies in various locations. On the downside, you have to be a paid member to use this feature.
All in all, I do like RedMorph as well; in fact, you might say it’s better than some of the other apps. Instead of installing a separate proxy, ad-blocker, and content filter, you can just have all them together.
I have yet to try the full version of the program, but I trust that it does its job efficiently. Heck, even Bane approves!
Of course, there are tons of other privacy tools out there, and I have yet to try them all. But at least I can cross two off of my list.
Let the adventures continue!!